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3 firms weigh in with EDI products

Three companies that make electronic data interchange software release new products to ride the e-commerce wave.

As the Internet becomes more popular as a medium for commerce, three companies that make electronic data interchange software today released new versions to shore up their market position and secure a place atop the e-commerce wave.

Known as EDI, the technology uses standard forms to communicate directly from computer to computer without human intervention. New versions of software released today are designed to put orders and other communications involved into the correct formats to allow EDI software to read the data.

EDI has fallen somewhat out of favor in recent years, because it is traditionally used over secure private networks--called value-added networks, or VANs--which are much costlier to use than the Internet. But many companies are broadening their EDI software for the Net.

"The network will become a commodity over the next three or four years," said David Alschuler, an e-commerce analyst with the Aberdeen Group. "Private networks will be replaced by the public 'highways,' and what is now on VANs will ultimately become specialized value-added services, such as reliability and security, using the public infrastructure."

But as a 30-year-old technology, EDI still carries some advantages, argues Vic Wheatman, an analyst at the Gartner Group research firm. "To my mind, traditional EDI still has value in that it can still be integrated with legacy applications."

Among those announcing products today was Premenos (PRMO), the first firm with EDI software for the Internet. It announced that the 3.0 version of its Templar Desktop allows companies to use Windows 95 desktops or Windows NT workstations to run their EDI program.

Harbinger (HRBC) said its recently acquired SupplyTech division has released version 3.0 of its STX for Windows EDI translation software, a comprehensive package designed to help companies easily establish EDI programs.

ARI Network Services (ARIS), which specializes in EDI for the agriculture and agriculture chemical industries, today said a new version of its Meppel software allows manufacturers--not just dealers and distributors--to use EDI without needing to learn its complexities.

A fourth EDI company, St. Paul Software, yesterday announced a bundling deal with hardware manufacturer Stratus Computer (SRA).

Looming over the smaller EDI software firms is Actra Business Systems, a joint venture of Netscape Communications and GE Information Systems, the world's largest EDI firm. Actra, which released its first product in May, is creating Internet-centric software that integrates with EDI.