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Compaq to beef up Web-based services

The company will start offering Web-based communications services, such as voice mail and application hosting, to small businesses.

Compaq on Monday will start offering Web-based communications services, such as voice mail and application hosting, to small businesses as PC makers continue to compete beyond the basic box.

Compaq Computer will launch the new services along with its 600-MHz Pentium III-based small-business Prosignia PCs.

PC makers including IBM and Dell Computer are racing to deliver Internet-based services for small businesses. IBM, for example, offers Web-based advice for small businesses including sales and marketing information, research, and customizable Web pages.

Compaq is striving to maintain its No. 1 status in this segment. It sank to No. 3 in U.S. small-business shipments in the first quarter of 1999, compared to a year earlier when it was No. 1, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). The market is estimated at about $50 billion in the United States and close to $140 billion worldwide, IDC has said in the past. The market is also growing at a pace that is about three times the information technology market in general, according to a variety of research.

The new communications center will offer an integrated suite of unified messaging services via a Web browser. One of the services, called Message Center Lite, provides voicemail, fax, and e-mail in a central location. For $14.95 a month, users can get regular Message Center, which will steer messages into their own Pop3 mailbox. Email can be read over the phone as well.

"You can't compete with just a box in this space," said a Compaq spokesperson.

"This is really application hosting," he added, referring to Internet-based software and services that are driven wholly from the Web site.

The Compaq Telecommunications Center is powered by TelePost, a company that provides business communications services.

Other services that will be available for a 30-day trial include a data backup service and a service called Briefcase, which offers file sharing, email, an address book, a task list, and a calendar accessible from any computer on the Internet, Compaq said. Other fee-based services include Web-based presentation and conference call centers.

The new Compaq services will be bookmarked in the Web browser shipping with the new Prosignia and will also be accessible through a dedicated key on the keyboard that ships with these models.

Compaq also unveiled a new look to its Online Services that incorporates an enhanced user interface, as well as increased efficiency in finding and buying available products.