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Actra details e-commerce plans

The joint venture of Netscape and GE Information will software products for conducting interbusiness commerce over the Net.

Breaking a long public silence, Actra Business Systems said today it will provide details on a suite of interbusiness e-commerce software on May 19.

The joint venture of Netscape Communications (NSCP) and GE Information Systems (GE), will include ECXpert in the business software suite. ECXpert is an electronic data interchange (EDI) product for the Net that integrates with other messaging protocols.

The suite will also include OrderXpert Seller and OrderXpert Buyer for other forms of Net-based electronic commerce.

Since the joint venture was announced last April, Actra has taken over two Netscape products, Merchant System, selling primarily to consumers over the Internet, and Publishing System, for offering subscription content from Web sites. Those products, combined with Actra's future business-to-business products, will form the Actra CrossCommerce family.

"Actra will offer a complete architecture for inter-enterprise deployment to sell published products or other goods over the Internet," said Actra's Jack Corsello, senior product for manager for Merchant System, indicating that Actra will focus on high-volume Web storefronts or publishing sites.

Actra wants to offer software for the range of business partners, he said.

Corsello noted that the Merchant and Publishing software have been shipping for two years, with customers including JC Penney, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Corsello said the 2.0 release for Merchant System, due near the end of the year, will allow Web sites to generate customized pages to specific customers based on their interests and past shopping patterns. It also will support the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol for secure credit card transactions over the Net, due to be published June 1. The merchant software currently uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption for credit card sales.

In addition, the next release will incorporate greater flexibility and ease of use for merchants, plus the ability to customize back-end services by using business rules to link to existing applications. The company will also upgrade customer service and marketing features, although those may not make the initial 2.0 release.

"We are looking to provide complete application solutions, not a toolkit or just one piece of the puzzle," Corsello said, seeking to differentiate Actra from competitors such as Microsoft, IBM, Open Market, iCat, BroadVision, and Connect. Actra currently offers only Unix versions of Merchant System but is evaluating a potential Windows NT version.

Actra expects a new version of its publishing software late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter. Enhancements will include easier staging and replication of content, targeted content for specific subscribers, site templates, and email notification of new content.

Both Merchant and Publishing software will support the Common Object Request Broker Architecture and Internet Inter ORB Protocol.