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Iona Technologies to offer iPortal tools

Iona Technologies is jumping into the exploding e-business software market in hopes of turning itself around.

Iona Technologies is jumping into the exploding e-business software market in hopes of turning itself around.

The development software maker today announced plans to offer a package of tools used to link businesses customers, employees, partners, and suppliers online. At the heart of its suite of products is an application server that helps businesses create e-commerce Web sites.

Dubbed iPortal, the company will release the suite of four product in early 2000. "It's all about making software work together and software integration," said Iona chief executive Chris Horn.

Including the application server, Iona will ship a new Component Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) object request called Orbix 2000 and an "integration server" that handles messaging and connects the app server to human resources, financial, and accounting software. The integration server also links software developed using the CORBA model to programs written to work with Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) programming model, and to other products.

Iona will also ship software, called iPortal Server, that handles security and routes users--customers, partners, and employees who are trying to access information from their Web browsers-- to the appropriate Web pages. The technology will support Extensible Markup Language (XML), a growing Web standard for businesses to exchange data.

With the move, Iona is diving into a crowded market, where it competes with dozens of companies, from start-ups such as SilverStream to software behemoths, such as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. They're all fighting for a share of the application server market, expected to grow to $2 billion in revenue by 2002, according to Forrester Research.

Iona, which historically supported the CORBA programming model, is now also supporting Java in its new application server. An application server is software that sits between Web browsers and back-end databases and runs transactions. For example, it makes sure an online buyer receives a discount if they buy a certain amount of goods.

Analyst Erick Brethenoux of Lazard Freres said it is a good move for Iona to enter the application server market, but added the company should have entered it earlier. "They should have been more aggressive," he said. "But they are building for the future and doing it very carefully, and in the long term, this [e-business strategy] will turn out to be a wise decision."

Iona isn't the only software development firm counting on the e-business software market to reverse its fortunes. Struggling toolmaker Inprise recently announced plans to release a new application server this fall.

Iona, which struggled early this year when it posted a loss in the March quarter, has been on the comeback trail. The company last week reported a third-quarter profit of $2.4 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $26.5 million. Iona, which saw its stock price fall from $50 to $13 earlier this year, has risen back to trade in the low 20s.