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E-commerce gets new formula

Bigger bang, bigger bucks--that's the formula for the next version of its iCat Electronic Commerce Suite.

Bigger bang, bigger bucks--that's iCat's formula for its next version of its iCat Electronic Commerce Suite, a tool for creating Web storefronts.

In version 3.0, due to ship in late February, iCat will let Web merchants connect to existing product databases rather than using only iCat's embedded Sybase SQL Anywhere database. It also lets merchants customize catalogs for individual users or companies, allows browser-based data and catalog management, and unveils a new plug-in architecture.

iCat is looking to generate more revenue from its e-commerce toolkit with the added features. While the current version sells for $1,495, version 3.0 will come in a template-based standard version for $3,495; a professional version, designed for Web site developers and sophisticated merchants, is priced at $9,995. For merchants that host their stores with an iCat partner, the publisher-only version of the software is available for $1,495.

Steve Guggenheimer, iCat's director of product management, sees iCat stepping up to compete against major players with version 3.0 of iCat Commerce Suite.

"We are now priced in the middle of the traditional server vendors," Guggenheimer said, mentioning Microsoft, Netscape Communications, Lotus, and IBM, whose offerings he put at $2,500 to $25,000. "Some of them have some of the power of iCat, but none of them have the flexibility because they create solutions for only their platforms.

"We are dead in the middle of those guys and have separated ourselves from the pack of start-ups," he added. "I think we would take any of them on head to head."

iCat also said it has signed up about 200 Web development firms and Internet hosting providers worldwide for its business partner program. The company also announced that 20-plus vendors will create plug-ins for iCat Commerce Suite, including United Parcel Service, Taxware International, and LitleNet.

Version 3.0 is based on iCat's new Carbo technology; the basic catalog engine has been rewritten in C++ for greater performance. Carbo includes a powerful command language, robust server, and development tools. The product supports both Netscape and Microsoft Web server APIs (application programming interfaces).

iCat's high-end version lets programmers create or customize templates that come with the product. The standard version runs on any Windows 95, NT, or Power Macintosh, while the professional version runs on those platforms plus Unix operating systems from Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics.

iCat authors can preview Web pages on their own machines, as opposed to a Web server. They also can mix and match among the various templates that come with iCat Commerce Suite.

In a separate e-commerce announcement, Cadis announced version 2.1 of its Krakatoa Web Catalog Publisher that includes EasyAuthor, a Windows 95 authoring tool to create and maintain searchable Web catalogs. Beta copies of Krakatoa 2.1 will be available by the end of March with a 90-day free trial of EasyAuthor. Krakatoa server costs from $1,500 for a single catalog of up to 1,000 items to $95,000 for an unlimited size catalog. Krakatoa is available for Sun Solaris, HP-UX, SGI, and NT servers.