Netscape antes up for commerce

Netscape Communications this week will launch new server applications for Internet commerce that may allow the company to stake out valuable high ground in the emerging market for electronic commerce.

Netscape is aiming its Merchant, Publishing, and Community Systems at big companies looking to do business on the Internet. The new 1.5 versions of the Netscape servers will help large enterprises move information from legacy databases to the Internet and provide Netscape with applications that rival offerings from IBM and Microsoft.

At the same time, Netscape has announced new partnerships with Andersen Consulting and Electronic Data Systems (EDS) to help provide support for large organisations that are creating applications intended for electronic commerce.

"EDS and Andersen do not mess around with junk, and they are very respected," says Ira Machefsky, an analyst with the Santa Clara, California- based Giga Information Group. "This is a big channel for Netscape, and it provides an important validation for them."

One industry observer says that bringing in established systems integrators will allow Netscape to remain focused on what it does best.

"Netscape is letting someone else who wants to do it, and is good at it, go in and mess around with legacy data systems while Netscape sticks to its core strength, the interface," says Charles Wickenden, senior product manager for information systems at Barnett Banks, in Jacksonville, Florida.

At the same time, Netscape's LivePayment application will provide small businesses with the capability to create "a virtual cash register" on their Web sites, according to Andres Espineira, Netscape's director of marketing for commercial applications.

"This allows small businesses without a lot of technical support to set up a storefront on the Internet," Espineira says. "People can tailor and develop applications on top of LivePayment."

For the time being, LivePayment will use Secure Socket Layers encryption technology for credit card security. It will support MasterCard and Visa's Secure Electronic Transaction when the standard is complete, Espineira says.

LivePayment is in beta testing now. Versions for Sun Solaris and Windows NT will ship in July priced at US$2995, Espineira says, with other platforms to follow.

Future versions of Netscape Navigator will incorporate a client version of the technology by October, company officials says.

LivePayment will support a wide range of existing payment protocols, including those of MasterCard, GE Capital, First Data and CyberCash.

"The real exciting thing about LivePayment is that they have taken all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together," Wickenden says.

According to Magdalena Yesil, co-founder of San Francisco-based CyberCash, LivePayment will likely help Netscape as it fights to establish a leadership position in the market for Internet commerce technology.

"This allows the user to do transactions with a browser. It is a very important positioning for Netscape," Yesil says.

Netscape's approach is the first complete solution that will be suitable for small businesses, according to Machefsky.

"Netscape offers a complete package to the merchant, with links into the financial institutions. That was not available before," Machefsky says.

"This is a make-or-break year for commerce over the Net, and these two packages will be key," Wickenden says.

"Innovative companies are recognising that online commerce is the low-cost distribution channel of the future," says Steven Johnson, managing partner of electronic commerce for Andersen.

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