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AOL takes stake in

America Online and are partnering in a broad alliance worth $56 million, and AOL will take a stake in the Net postage firm.

America Online and today said the companies are partnering in a broad alliance worth $56 million, and AOL will take a stake in the Net postage firm.

With the agreement, will exclusively provide Internet postage on AOL, Netscape, and CompuServe branded CD-ROMs as well as online across AOL's properties. AOL will also make a multimillion dollar investment in the Internet postage company.

The alliance targets the small office/home office (SOHO) segment, the companies said. Increasingly Web portals are gunning to attract the growing SOHO market. Just yesterday, financial software maker Intuit said it would offer credit card processing and stamp-buying services by linking its accounting software with other electronic commerce and Internet companies, including rival E-Stamp.

While AOL also has a deal with E-Stamp, the earlier deal is much smaller in scale and did not involve an investment from AOL, an AOL spokesman said. E-Stamp will remain as a service provider but will receive premier billing and will be included on all AOL and CompuServe CD-ROMs.

In August, Microsoft said it would offer's postage services through its Office Update Web site, giving the Internet postage company access to millions of its business software users.

Other portals like Yahoo are also aggressively expanding their small business and home office offerings. Earlier this summer, Excite@Home shelled out $2.5 million for a minority stake in E-Stamp.

The alliance gives access to more than 20 million subscribers from AOL's Web properties. The three-year, $56 million agreement expands an existing alliance between the two companies.

"Whether it's individuals, small businesses, or corporate enterprise, working together AOL and will be able to make this service both easy to use and easily available," Bob Pittman, president of AOL, said in a statement. and other Internet postage companies allow consumers to print postage at any time through their computers with a printer and Internet connection.