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HP spends cash to make some in e-commerce

The computer maker invests in Moai Technologies to incorporate its electronic trading software to help companies move their business operations online.

Hewlett-Packard has invested in Moai Technologies and will incorporate the company's electronic trading software with its own offerings to help companies move their business operations to the Web.

Moai, founded in 1996, makes software for online trading, auctions and other forms of e-commerce. HP's investment--an undisclosed amount--is one of a series the computer maker has been making as part of its "e-services" plan to insert itself into the fabric of e-commerce.

The e-services initiative, now more than a year old, is HP's response to its admitted late start in trying to make more money off the growth of the Internet. Through the initiative, HP is signing deals with specific companies, a more aggressive approach than its earlier neutral philosophy. The goal is to have HP hardware, software and services underlie businesses' use of the Internet.

Sun Microsystems is the recognized leader in the Internet arena. HP, IBM, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer and others are trying to catch up.

The Moai software will be used in HP's program to spur use of portals, said Nick Earle, president of HP's organization.

HP is a big fan of portals--not just traditional general-purpose sites, but also of smaller ones tailored for use by a specific audience such as employees of a company. The company last year signed a deal with leading portal Yahoo to allow businesses to set up company-specific portals, a program called Corporate My Yahoo.

HP's portal plans also are connected to BroadVision, another Moai investor and a maker of software that changes the Web pages Internet surfers see according to their behavior. Starting June 16, prepackaged combinations of HP and BroadVision products for building portals will become available, HP said.

In addition, HP has begun to include the business partners that sell its products in its vision of the future.

These local resellers will be able to sell HP-backed Internet services, the company said. The company believes customers increasingly will rent computing services instead of setting up their own.

The move comes as HP grapples with problems with those very businesses by moving to sell more of its products directly to customers.

"HP began to compete with the channel not only on price, but for certain accounts as well," Morgan Stanley Dean Witter analyst Tom Kraemer said in a recent report.