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BackWeb to push to big browsers

As Microsoft and Netscape roll out their competing channel systems, push software maker BackWeb is upgrading its products to work with the larger companies' browsers.

    As top-tier software firms Microsoft and Netscape roll out their competing channel systems, push software maker BackWeb is upgrading its products to work with the larger companies' browsers.

    Like its peers PointCast and Intermind, BackWeb has created its own push solution. BackWeb's server pulls information from other databases and "broadcasts" it as a series of Web pages to PC desktops. But the rollout of Netscape's Netcaster and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 has forced BackWeb to make its broadcasts viewable with those clients. Previously, BackWeb channels were viewable in a standalone client or embedded within customized applications.

    "We'll have a release before the end of year that includes browser integration," said BackWeb director of product management Bill Heye. "You'll be able to download [the client] like a control or plug-in."

    The goal is to make the viewing of BackWeb channels within Netcaster or IE 4.0 as seamless as the viewing of channels built according to Microsoft or Netscape specifications, Heye said.

    BackWeb will release version 3.0 of its client and server tools at the end of August, Heye added. Version 3.0 will not include the browser integration, however. That feature is due later in the year.

    BackWeb 3.0 will include several upgrades, including two that the company will charge for. The new for-fee features are a publishing wizard and support for Tibco IP multicasting. The publishing wizard lets developers create their channels through an HTML interface, although the channels will still distribute documents or executables of any file format. The IP multicasting support is specifically for companies that already have Tibco software in their routers.

    The new version also adds the following features:

  • BackWeb Administration Kit. The kit allows server-side configuration of BackWeb clients. In previous versions, network administrators who wanted either to lock in or block certain channels within their company had to ask end users to set the parameters; version 3.0 gives that power to the administrators. The kit also permits customization of the BackWeb client user interface.

  • More client notification tools. The 3.0 version will include two more ways for users to be notified of new or updated information: an announcer that pops information up on screen and a ticker window that constantly scrolls information. Both are ActiveX controls and will need to be rewritten in Java for integration into the Netcaster environment.

  • Added proxy capability. The Backweb proxy server will now permit a company to not only store but filter and schedule other companies' BackWeb channels.

  • Other server-side enhancements. The BackWeb 3.0 server will provide preformatted reports for channel producers who want to aggregate and track the response to their content. It will also have a refined API (application programming interface) that cuts the time to program database "hooks" in half, according to Heye. The BackWeb server doesn't store any content itself, so programmers need to connect it to content databases. Version 3.0 will make these connections, or hooks, easier to create, Heye said.

    Pricing for the for-fee features will be announced when BackWeb 3.0 ships. The overall pricing scheme will not change. BackWeb pricing starts at $10,500 for a server and 250 clients on a company network. Additional per-client cost ranges from $15 to $50 depending on volume. For Internet configuration, prices start at $10,500 for 25,000 downloads a month. A download can be any number of pages or files served with no size limit.

    The BackWeb server runs on Windows NT and Sun Solaris. The company expects to support other flavors of Unix in the near future. The BackWeb client runs on Win32 machines, Macintosh, and Windows 3.1. The Mac and Win3.1 versions of BackWeb 3.0 are due two to four months after the Win32 releases.