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Sun-Netscape duo announces new application server software

In hopes of quieting its skeptics, executives from the Sun-Netscape Alliance unify their e-commerce software and say they'll ship a new product early next year.

In hopes of quieting its skeptics, executives from the Sun-Netscape Alliance said today they have unified their e-commerce software and will ship a new product early next year as promised.

The iPlanet Application Server 6.0 is based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the latest iteration of Sun's programming language, which Sun said can help companies build large, e-commerce Web sites. Sun said the application server will be certified as Java 2 Enterprise Edition compliant later this month.

When Sun Microsystems and America Online, owner of Netscape, struck their partnership eight months ago, they said they would meld together their separate e-commerce technology called application servers and release a single, unified product in early 2000.

The strategy was met with heavy skepticism by competitors and industry analysts who said it's difficult to combine the software code of different technologies. But Alliance executives say they're on track to deliver.

The partnership will ship a beta version of its new iPlanet application server in January and release a final version, along with complementary development tools, in March.

The alliance competes against Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and dozens of other software makers in the emerging market for application servers, software that sits between Web browsers and databases and helps run the transactions on an e-commerce Web site.

Because of the stiff competition, analysts say it's important that the Alliance deliver its product on time. But the partnership must prove the new technology is reliable and fast enough to meet the needs of its target audience: large businesses, portal Web sites and Internet service providers.

"They're on track, but we don't know exactly what they're going to develop. The end result won't be known until people use it in projects and put it in production, so there's still room for skepticism," said analyst Mike Gilpin of Giga Information Group.

As reported earlier, the iPlanet Application Server 6.0 will support Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the latest Java standard that includes the Enterprise JavaBeans programming model.

The product will meld together technology from the Netscape application server, Sun's NetDynamics application server, as well as some technology from Sun's recent acquisition of Forte Software.

The joint effort will take Netscape's transaction engine and NetDynamic's software connectors to Enterprise Resource Planning software and so-called legacy systems, such as mainframe computers.

The Alliance will also include Forte technology that lets developers easily map software code to databases, said Joe Keller, the Alliance's vice president and general manager of application servers. The group will also bundle in Forte's SynerJ development tool for programmers building business software.

The product will allow current users of Netscape, NetDynamics and Forte app servers to easily migrate to the new product, he said.

The Alliance on Monday also released a new addition to its BillerXpert bill payment product family. The technology, which runs on top of the application server, allows people to pay their bills over the Internet.

The new product, called BillerXpert Consolidator Edition, allows banks and other institutions to easily and quickly set up a Web site, so their customers can pay their cable, utility, water and other bills online.