Small is big at Internet World

Getting small businesses into e-commerce emerges as a major theme for the trade show, which opens next week in Los Angeles.

4 min read
Getting small businesses into e-commerce is emerging as a major theme at next week's Internet World trade show in Los Angeles, where a slew of startups will join industry heavyweights like Intel in targeting small companies.

"It's a huge, huge business opportunity," said Laurie McCabe, small-business analyst at Summit Strategies. "Finally, the big vendors are waking up."

Intel is slated to outline plans for iCat, the e-commerce software firm it bought in December. Intel, which has split iCat into a product division and an online e-commerce service, will detail its service plans, which include a browser-based tool to create a Web storefront.

Intel also plans to announce a new networking device in its InBusiness line for smaller companies, and rising Intel star Sean Maloney, who gives Wednesday's opening keynote, is expected to discuss the virtual private network (VPN) technology Intel acquired with Shiva.

Big names like AT&T, America Online's business-oriented Netcenter portal, Oracle, Network Associates, Sterling Commerce and Adobe Systems also plan announcements at the show. Microsoft is hosting a pre-show party to promote its Windows Media Technologies.

As reported yesterday by CNET's News.com, Oracle will describe the road map for its application server, and it's also scheduled to discuss its strategy for using eXtended Markup Language (XML). AT&T will announce a new portfolio of business services and demonstrate AT&T Labs' technologies for delivering CD-quality music over the Net, new image compression, universal messaging services, and virtual reality software.

Adobe will show, for the first time, its GoLive product for Windows machines, the GoLive CyberStudio software it acquired in January. Network Associates is scheduled to unveil enhancements to its McAfee.com site of tools for PC users.

Sterling Commerce will preview a new version of Commerce:Webforms, a Web-based electronic commerce solution designed for large firms to exchange business documents with their smaller business partners over the Internet.

Grabbing early attention among industry analysts is a "free Web server" offer from Encanto Networks, which offers an Internet appliance bundled with a Web server, storefront software, and an Internet connection.

Encanto will give the server and software free to small companies that sign a two-year service agreement for an Internet connection at $70 a month.

"Other people do each of those pieces, but not together as one integrated and working unit," said Encanto CEO Robert Frankenberg, the former Novell CEO and ex-Hewlett-Packard executive. Encanto claims competitors charge $350 a month just for connections.

"It's almost like a no-risk offer," enthused analyst McCabe. "There are no hardware costs up front, you pay a couple hundred bucks for a reseller to install the system, and all of a sudden you have email, Web access, and e-commerce."

"People are realizing something we saw earlier--that the most under-served segment of business are small businesses with less than 450 employees and even more with less than 20," Frankenberg said.

So is Cobalt Networks which is targeting ISPs with an e-commerce bundle for its RaQ Internet server appliance. The offering, designed for ISPs to host Web storefronts, will cost around $2,000 and include Miva storefront and catalog software, PaymentNet for accepting credit card payments, and Thawte for digital certificates.

Earlier this week, ISP Verio announced e-commerce hosting targeted at small businesses, working with iMall and First Data Merchant Services, a payment processor. Another ISP, Concentric Network, is expected to make a similar announcement next week, and Earthlink is promoting its similar TotalCommerce service.

In recent months, Web giants like Yahoo and Lycos have boosted their e-commerce offerings for small companies, and accounting software firm Intuit has launched a line of Web-based small-business services, starting with payroll.

"It's mainly in response to what small companies are saying they want," said James Staten, a Dataquest analyst. "They want to get into e-commerce, and it has a lot to do with all the media hype about Christmas. But the vendors have been taking longer to figure out how to deliver that."

E-commerce start-up Econex will unveil its "e-commerce dial-tone" service, an end-to-end Internet commerce solution for small to midsized companies. Global telecommunications provider USA Global Link is launching a new global e-commerce Web site backed by a major promotional campaign to generate traffic.

WebTrends will announce an e-commerce version of its Web-site tracking software, and rival Accrue will upgrade its competitive offering too.

e-Software will introduce e-Configurator, a tool to configure complex products for business-to-business e-commerce, priced at under $25,000. It will compete with higher-priced configurators from Intershop, Trilogy, Calico and IBM

Europe's OpenShop will announce a U.S. version of its e-commerce software, and PeopleSupport, which provides outsourced customer service, will announce "a major entertainment company" doing e-commerce.

Elemental Software will ship a wizard-based e-commerce add-on to its Drumbeat 2000 tools for creating Web sites. eStore Builder includes a shopping cart for taking orders and real-time credit card processing for payments. List price is $399 but it will be $249 until June 1.

Payment firm CyberCash has scheduled announcements, and e-commerce software vendor Open Market will name new partners and customers.

In other news, Creative Labs is scheduled to launch its portable MP3 player. Alcatel, which this week closed its purchase of Xylan, will promote its ADSL technology and new Internet division.

On the controversial issue of Internet filtering, RuleSpace will announce a new product for the corporate market.