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PointCast looks for new CEO

As it launches the second major version of its "push" technology, PointCast is searching for a new chief executive.

As it launches the second major version of its "push" technology, PointCast has decided that it needs a new chief executive.

Today PointCast announced that it has begun a search for a new CEO and that cofounder and current chief executive Chris Hassett will become chairman of the privately held company. PointCast will also provide details on its new PointCast 2.0 software.

The company quietly posted a beta version of PointCast 2.0 over the weekend, ahead of today's official release. The software can be downloaded for free from the company's FTP site or from CNET's software library.

According to Jaleh Bisharat, senior vice president of marketing at PointCast, the company is looking for a new CEO who will help expand its business. Bisharat said Hassett and PointCast's investors, which include venture capital firms Benchmark Capital and Mohr Davidow Ventures, were all involved in the decision to look for a new executive.

"It's not unusual that a company gets to a certain size and then looks to bring in extremely seasoned management to complement what skills are already in place," Bisharat said in an interview.

Indeed, such management changes are far from uncommon in the world of high-tech start-ups. Months after he founded Netscape Communications, Jim Clark hired a seasoned executive, Jim Barksdale, to take over the role of CEO. Clark remains chairman of Netscape.

Recently, PointCast bolstered its executive staff by hiring Phil Koen as chief financial officer.

PointCast is facing increased competition from Netscape, Microsoft, and smaller push firms like Wayfarer Communications, so it will undoubtedly look for a tough executive who can help it stay ahead of the pack. Before founding PointCast, Hassett was manager of research and development at Adobe Systems.

PointCast is also facing pressure to make its technology more friendly for corporations, something that Netscape and Microsoft are making a significant focus of their push packages. PointCast now has no controls for screening out information channels, allowing users to get horoscopes and sports scores along with more business-oriented fare such as financial news.

With PointCast 2.0, the company says it has improved performance of the software, as well as several new utilities--Corporate Broadcast Manager, Caching Manager, and Administrator--for allowing systems managers to control what information users can receive on their desktops.

Initially, PointCast 2.0 will be a 32-bit application available only for Windows 95 and NT. A 16-bit version of PointCast 2.0 for Windows 3.1 will be available within two weeks, Bisharat said.

PointCast is a pioneer of push technology, which turns traditional Web browsing on its head. Instead of having to manually type in a Web address to visit a site, push technology--also known as Webcasting--automatically transmits information directly to users.

The new utilities will replace a $995 PointCast I-Server, a program that allows corporations to reduce network congestion from PointCast broadcasts and to set up a personalized company channel. The utilities will be available for free this summer.

PointCast will also offer a new version of PointCast 2.0, called the Added Control client, that will allow managers to eliminate advertisements from broadcasts. But instead of receiving PointCast information broadcasts and software for free, the AC client will cost under $100, according to Bisharat.

"I think the majority will take it for free, but they will like the option," she said.

Netscape has released its Netcaster push technology into beta testing and will ship it with its Communicator software suite in June. Microsoft will release a beta version of Internet Explorer 4.0 with sophisticated push features within the next two months and plans to ship its product by the end of the year.

As with the Microsoft and Netscape solutions, PointCast will allow any Web site publisher to broadcast information to users of the PointCast 2.0 software through a feature known as PointCast Connections. Currently, the PointCast Network--an accompanying information service for its software featuring publishers like CNN and New York Times--is composed of companies that maintain an advertising revenue-sharing deal with PointCast.

Tomorrow, PointCast will release Studio, a program that will allow Connections channel providers to design their own Smart Screens, a feature that lets channels display content as screen savers.

PointCast 2.0 will also be the first push software to be based on the channel definition format (CDF), a new technology also backed by Microsoft. The companies promised that CDF will make it simpler for users to pick the information they want to receive and reduce network congestion.

Microsoft has submitted CDF to the World Wide Web Consortium for consideration as an official Internet standard. But the technology could be impeded because Netscape has declined to support it in Netcaster.

PointCast and Microsoft have closely allied themselves in other areas besides CDF. The company has licensed Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 browser and is integrating it into PointCast 2.0.

Microsoft has cut a deal with PointCast to make all of the company's information channels accessible from Internet Explorer 4.0, a move that could significantly boost the audience for PointCast broadcasts beyond their current 1.2 million people.

But its partnership with Microsoft could prove difficult for PointCast as the software giant makes its own efforts to aggregate content for Explorer 4.0 from outside companies, as well as from homegrown media properties such MSNBC and Microsoft Network. PointCast derives most of its revenue from advertisements that adorn its channels, which will soon vie for attention with other content within Explorer 4.0.

Opening its network to broadcasting from ordinary Web publishers could also generate some competitive friction for PointCast because it will not derive ad revenue from those channels.

However, some analysts believe that PointCast's client and industrial-strength broadcast servers may still provide it with a technological lead over its competitors.

"We'll see if Netscape and Microsoft can come up with the same scalability capabilities as PointCast," said Daniel Rimer, Internet analyst with investment banking firm Hambrecht & Quist. "PointCast has been in the game a lot longer. I'm not concerned that Microsoft and Netscape can get there, but it's going to take them awhile."