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Sun-Netscape alliance polishes e-commerce package

The partnership is seeking a larger piece of market that is expected to grow from $147 million last year to $5.3 billion by 2003.

The Sun-Netscape alliance is sprucing up its e-commerce software with features aimed at letting businesses buy goods from their suppliers online.

The partnership is now shipping its new BuyerXpert software, which streamlines corporate purchases by creating online purchase orders and invoices.

In addition to BuyerXpert, the alliance's procurement software suite includes two existing products: Custom NetCenter, which lets businesses create portal sites for buying and selling goods, and TradingXpert, which lets companies exchange purchasing information via the Web.

With the products, the partnership between Sun Microsystems and America Online's Netscape unit is trying to grab a piece of the burgeoning online procurement software market by bundling a mix of new and existing products.

Competitors include Oracle, the second-largest independent software company in the world, and two companies that recently held successful initial public offerings: Ariba and Commerce One.

The market for online procurement software reached $147 million in 1998 and is expected to grow to $5.3 billion by 2003, according to a recent International Data Corporation study.

The alliance is aiming its procurement software at two customers: large corporations that can run the services themselves, and service providers--such as telecommunications companies--that would host the services for small and medium-size businesses.

To augment its core procurement products, the alliance plans to add new technology that lets businesses set up online auctions, create catalogs of merchandise, and track the location and shipment schedule of recently purchased goods.

The partnership is also building software that lets suppliers give discounts to its buying partners who buy products in bulk. In all, the partnership will add about ten new features within three to nine months.

"We're rounding out our solutions for buyers and suppliers," said Peter MacDonald, a group product manager.

The new version of BuyerXpert supports the Euro currency and allows the user to customize the appearance of purchase orders and invoices.

The alliance's procurement software package--called the iPlanet Strategic Internet Procurement Solution--costs between $600,000 to $700,000 depending on the size of the company, MacDonald said.

The software package, available now, also comes with the recently announced Commerce Integration Suite, which includes an application server that runs online transactions, and a directory server that is a central database for individual user's information.