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CompuServe's Web launch coming

In its continuing efforts to get back to profitability, CompuServe, is expanding its foray onto the Web through the year.

CompuServe (CSRV), in its continuing efforts to get back to profitability, is expanding its foray onto the Web.

When CompuServe--the oldest of the top four commercial online services--first launched, the Web didn't exist; the company had to create its own platform.

Now that the Web--with HTML as its authoring language--is the online standard, CompuServe is marching forward with its previously reported plans to put its content on the Web.

By the end of the year, the company will launch its Web-based business while keeping its proprietary service intact, according to spokesman William Giles.

He said the company is still ironing out details, such as how much the Web-based service will cost, and whether it will ultimately phase out its Internet access business.

Of course, CompuServe is not the first online service to move over to the Web. Microsoft Network did so with great fanfare about a year ago, announcing at the same time that it was phasing out its proprietary service. Ditto for Prodigy.

That leaves the largest service of them all, America Online (AOL), as the lone holdout. Although AOL incorporates HTML into its platform, it still operates on its own proprietary architecture, known as Rainman.

Developers are loath to write for two platforms, even one as large as AOL. Some content partners who have left AOL cite the dual-development issue as one reason for abandoning the service.

CompuServe said the move to the Web will save it a lot of money both on development and marketing. The company will no longer have to release new versions of its proprietary service every six months or so; it also can market to people directly on the Web, sending them through a hyperlink to the CompuServe service.

"We see the Internet as the primary platform on which we develop our service because that offers a lot of savings to us as a company," Giles said.

He added that the move onto the Web does not alter CompuServe's mission to serve the more sophisticated Internet user, with heavy emphasis on business and professional users.

"There are estimates from 20 million to 60 million people are on the Internet," Giles noted. "A very small fraction of those people are on CompuServe. We think there's a lot of people out there who are currently online and connected who could benefit from the content we provide."