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Business portal targets Netscape

Fast-growing Network Associates now wants to get into the Internet portal business.

NEW YORK--On the heels of a year-long acquisition binge that's swallowed up Internet security and desktop utility firms, fast-growing Network Associates now wants to get into the Internet portal business.

The company today rolled out its Project Apollo portal strategy, which envisions a site for users to "manage the health and fitness of their PCs." Currently called McAfee Online, it's due for launch next month.

Among today's so-called portals, the McAfee Online strategy is most similar to Netscape Communications' Netcenter site, which 13 months ago said it would target business users of the Internet. The key differentiators in McAfee Online's strategy are its proposed subscription-based "McAfee Garage" service and its "traveling portal" add-on to a customized version of Internet Explorer 4.0.

Ironically, the man leading Network Associates' portal charge is vice president of marketing Srivats Sampath, a former Netscape executive who joined Network Associates July 15. The company's new online unit has grown to 50-plus employees in the last 8 weeks, Sampath said in an interview.

For $4 to $8 per month, McAfee Garage will let individual and corporate subscribers use Network Associates' antivirus software, desktop encryption, and desktop utilities to tune up their PCs. The subscription approach mimics Network Associates' corporate selling scheme for its McAfee antivirus software--two-year subscriptions for corporations, with pricing based on the number of users.

The "traveling portal" element is an add-on to Microsoft's browser that puts a McAfee border around a standard Web browser window. In that extra space, Network Associates intends to display Web ads related to the content of sites the user is visiting, context-sensitive searches based on where the user is visiting, virus and security alerts, plus ratings and statistics about the site being visited.

Based on Network Associates' various online activities, the company claims to reach 9.4 million unique users per month. Sampath said McAfee Online aims to triple that figure by July 1, 1999.

Like other portal sites, much of the McAfee Online strategy is based on partners. Today the company announced a deal with online software store Beyond.com for a cobranded store on the new site. Beyond.com's chairman, William McKiernan, was Larson's predecessor as McAfee CEO.

A separate McAfee Direct feature will sell Network Associates' own software.

Next month, Sampath said, the site will launch a comparative shopping feature from Junglee for clothes, PCs, movies, books, and items in four other categories. Amazon.com, which is acquiring Junglee, is likely to be the site's books partner, and Sampath is in discussions with Visto on a "briefcase" service that unifies telecommuters' email addresses and stores documents for them while they are on the road.

McAfee also plans a service for tracking UPS and Federal Express packages and selling postage stamps online.

The site is further negotiating with the top-ranked music store, investor site, and free email provider to add to its services, Sampath said. In addition to discussions with an unnamed travel partner, McAfee Online is negotiating with several firms for Net search services.

Sampath hinted that Network Associates' portal play is partly aimed at boosting its stock price. On Wall Street, portals command greater premiums than plain-vanilla software companies. And chief executive William Larson has feuded lately with bearish financial analysts.

Since last October, Network Associates has made six acquisitions. It bought network management firm Network General in October, encryption software pioneer Pretty Good Privacy in December, and firewall firm Trusted Information System in February.

In May, Network Associates bought security firm Secure Networks, in June it acquired European antivirus firm Dr. Solomon, and in July it purchased desktop utilities firm CyberMedia.

McAfee Associates was the name of the antivirus software firm before CEO Larson went on a mergers and acquisitions spree and changed the company's name to Network Associates.