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Software helps users sift as they surf

With many Net users feeling like they're drowning in information, a new wave of software companies are rushing to the rescue.

With many Net users feeling like they're drowning in information, a new wave of software companies are rushing to the rescue with applications that prepackage information for the user and deliver the results via the Net.

Screen saver developer Berkeley Systems will preview such a tool called Web.Max this week at Internet World in San Jose, California. The company is doing deals with Net content providers such as Intellicast, an online weather guide run by NBC and WSI. The information then gets "broadcast" to Web.Max, which uses a television metaphor to display the information to the user.

Along with the television "broadcast," users get a search tool, an Internet phone application, Netscape's Navigator 2.0 browser, Eudora Light email software, and 120 free hours of Internet access with Earthlink Network. Web.Max will ship on CD-ROM for $39.95 in late May, the company said.

Web.Max is copying an idea already being used by the PointCast Network, a free Windows desktop application that retrieves news and information from several content providers such as Time Warner's Pathfinder and broadcasts the information via several "channels" to the desktop. Unlike Web.Max, PointCast can also display the headlines to a screen saver that comes with the tool. PointCast has also begun to regionalize its service with channels from the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. Users who register with Southern California or New England zip codes will receive the headlines from these two online papers.

The company will ship version 1.0 of PointCast Network next week, after a nearly three-month beta test.

Meanwhile, the leader in Internet audio, Progressive Networks, is pursuing a similar strategy but focusing on content providers that post audio segments to their sites. Timecast: the Real Audio Guide leads surfers on an audio tour of the Web by pointing the user to various "daily briefing" sites--including CNET--and sits back as the selected sites play one after another.