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InternetWeek Online
September 15, 1997
Actra, the joint venture between Netscape Communications and GE Information Services, tomorrow plans to confirm beta and commercial ship dates for all five of its commerce applications, designed to give companies the tools necessary for intranet, extranet and public Web commerce.
The company will also announce plans to release Netscape PublishingXpert 2.0 on Sept. 26. Actra will position the product as a publishing tool for companies intent on reaching business customers and suppliers with industrial-strength catalogs, extensive search capabilities and personalized content.
Also, Netscape and Actra will announce that ECXpert, used to send electronic data interchange (EDI) information over the Internet, will be extended to the Windows NT platform by Oct. 16, while Netscape SellerXpert, for maintenance of complex business-to-business commerce sites, will also be delivered by Oct. 16 to the Sun Solaris platform. Netscape BuyerXpert, a product used by companies to streamline corporate procurement processes, is scheduled for release by the end of the year. MerchantXpert--a business-to-consumer merchandising platform--completes the slew of Actra offerings with beta scheduled for the first quarter of 1998.
The announcements jibe with previously disclosed shipping dates for Actra products, and serve as confirmation that the company's development of products is on track. For Netscape, the Actra platforms are critical because they provide high-end point solutions to the Internet software developer's product portfolio. Dubbed Netscape CommerceXpert, the Actra product line will receive significant marketing support from Netscape and GEIS.
"We're relying on the Actra product to link business together for extranets,'' said Wayne Dyer, director of application product marketing for Netscape. "This [CommerceXpert] is a core piece of our extranet strategy.''
Netscape PublishingXpert, ECXpert and SellerXpert will add more fuel to an already sizzling market. Last week, the Intel/SAP joint venture Pandesic announced general availability and pricing for its initial offering Release 1.1, an electronic commerce platform initially aimed at retail Web commerce. Meanwhile, Microsoft disclosed a marketing alliance with Web procurement system vendor Commerce One, which will principally develop on Microsoft technology in exchange for advertising and marketing support Pandesic has disclosed long-term plans to move into the same business-to-business market that Actra's ECXpert, SellerXpert and BuyerXpert products are positioned, while Commerce One is a direct competitor with Actra's business-to-business procurement systems.
"We've tested the scalability of the product [with Netscape's existing customer base of more than 70 corporate accounts],'' said Mark Biestman, vice president of commercial applications and business development at Actra. "We see that as a key [differentiating factor].''
All of Actra's products leverage the common commerce application infrastructure included in the Netscape ONE development environment. That means such functions as payment, membership access, personal profiling and order management are common to all five of Actra's high-end commerce applications. So, companies can build a commerce application infrastructure once, and use the same systems for payment, membership access, profiling and order management on subsequent extranet, intranet and public Web commerce sites. All Actra server platforms include Netscape Enterprise server and LiveWirePro for creation of native database access and Java scripting.
By far the biggest revelation from Actra on Tuesday will be the pending availability of Netscape PublishingXpert 2.0, which is priced at $75,000 and initially available on the Sun Solaris platform. Netscape Publishing Xpert 2.0 is billed as a big upgrade to Netscape Publishing System 1.6 -- the six-month-old product it replaces. Key to the platform is the introduction of AgentXpert, a Corba-based agent framework for personalization and one-to-one marketing on Web publishing sites. A Java-based administration tool added to PublishingXpert 2.0 allows companies to manage access controls, billing and subscription services.
"We're moving the product from a traditional business-to-consumer market into business-to-business publishing, corporate extranet publishing and multihosting through ISPs and [European telecommunication companies],'' said Biestman. "This is a complete re-architecture of the system. Ultimately, we see customers focusing on customer service and marketing in business-to-business and business-to-consumer scenarios.''

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