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Netscape finds groupware niche

The company's new application is used to design, deploy, and manage business processes traditionally done by hand.

Netscape Communications is diving deeper into the corporate computing pool with the release tomorrow of a new application that pits the company against groupware makers Lotus Development and Microsoft.

Called Netscape Process Manager, the application is used by corporations to design, deploy, manage, and access those business processes that are traditionally handled manually. For example, an attorney could use the software to automate billing of key accounts or for contract management and bidding processes.

Sharmila Shahani, Netscape's vice president of enterprise product marketing, explained that the software is a net that can catch and automate business processes not addressed by enterprise resource planning software from SAP or PeopleSoft.

The software is also meant as an alternative to such workflow and groupware products as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.

"This is not Lotus Notes. You do not need to know Notes script and do all that painstaking coding," said Destin Broach, senior product manager at Netscape, adding that traditional workflow systems are also "internally focused and don't provide good centralized management capability."

Netscape is betting the Internet-based technology behind its product will drive sales because the system can be opened up to external suppliers and clients and deployed to remote offices easily by allowing access through a browser armed with standard password protection.

The product contains four parts. The Process Manager Builder is a virtual design tool for creating the processes. It uses reusable components that can be dragged and dropped into the process mapping area. The Process Manager Engine then generates the processes on Netscape's enterprise server and directory server. The Process Manager Administrator lets managers audit and monitor the processes, and the Process Manager Express lets users start, search for, or participate in processes through a browser.

The system, which is in final beta testing now, is expected to be available late next month. Pricing is expected to begin at $9,995 for a starter bundle of 100 user licenses, 2 builder seats, 100 directory server user licenses, and a copy of Netscape's Enterprise Server software. Additional seat licenses are expected to be $75 each and additional builder seats will cost $1,495 each. Pricing for extranet deployment is expected to begin at $49,500 per server.