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Firm sets sights on users' cursors

Comet Systems, whose software turns a user's cursor into a variety of custom- or ready-made icons, reports tremendous download rates.

As computer technology giants duke it out for control of the desktop, the browser, and Internet domains, one start-up is going after a small but ubiquitous piece of computer real estate: your cursor.

Comet Systems' software turns a user's cursor into a variety of custom- or ready-made icons when the user hovers over a hyperlink. Today the company celebrated its sixth month in business with what it describes as one of the most successful download rates in Internet history, with 2.4 million distinct users and 10 million total downloads since its launch last August.

A gadget like the Comet Cursor may not seem either vital or particularly lucrative. But Comet Systems has attracted about two dozen large Web sites willing to pay $1,500 per month to add some life to their visitors' cursors. And with research showing that the tool boosts click-through rates when used in conjunction with banner advertisements, Comet expects to start earning a share of Web ad dollars as well.

Current paying customers include Mattel, AT&T WorldNet, and Sony Music.

In addition to licensing customized Comet Cursors to large Web sites, the company gives away a limited number of cursors for smaller sites. Visitors must download Comet Systems' software to view the cursor, but that 25K download takes less than 10 seconds, according to the company.

"It's easy and painless download, and it's fun," said Ben Austin, Comet Systems' director of marketing. "People really, really like having their cursors change."

Comet Systems has a patent pending on the application, which it filed in 1997.