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E-commerce duel shaping up

HP and the Sun-Netscape Alliance make dueling e-commerce announcements tomorrow, underscoring the fact that HP's once-strong alliance with Netscape has changed.

Hewlett-Packard and the Sun-Netscape alliance will make dueling e-commerce announcements tomorrow, underscoring the fact that HP's once-strong alliance with Netscape has gone sour as arch-rival Sun begins to play a dominating role.

Sun and America Online will outline their strategic direction for the former Netscape suite of e-commerce software, with a new emphasis on partnerships to extend its homegrown capabilities, Sun-Netscape alliance executives said. The duo also will name 17 partners in several categories to put substance behind the strategy.

HP and BroadVision will announce plans to invest $35 million to codevelop and market new applications for companies that set up "business portals" for their customers, according to HP executives. Both HP and BroadVision have already invested in Security First, which builds software for Internet banking, a key market for both companies.

In the months since the announcement of Netscape's buyout, HP has been revamping its "e-services" strategy, including close partnerships or investments in companies like procurement provider Ariba and BEA Systems, which markets an application server and tools for linking legacy applications to the Internet.

No wonder: The Sun-Netscape alliance is "certainly not a good thing for HP" because of the intense Sun-HP rivalry, said Albert Pang, e-commerce software analyst at International Data Corporation.

"HP doesn't want to spend that much time trying to patch up its relationship with Netscape," he said. "There's no question that HP is trying to address the e-commerce market with great fervor and allying themselves with some of the smaller players," Pang added.

During the most intense phases of the Netscape-Microsoft battle, HP had sought to remain neutral, working with both sides and supporting browsers from both companies. HP also marketed and supported Netscape's Web server suite, messaging, and directory servers. The future of those activities remains unclear.

But HP's direct sales force and partners will immediately begin to sell BroadVision's e-commerce and personalization software, a huge boost in BroadVision's reach, moving it from offices in 32 nations to 150 with HP's backing. (Likewise, Sun's sales force expands the marketing of Netscape's e-commerce software.)

Both HP and BroadVision took hard shots at Sun and Netscape.

"It's a Sun and Windows NT-only solution, so it's not open," said Nigel Ball, general manager of HP's e-services division.

"Whichever way you slice and dice it, Sun has acquired Netscape. We believe this solution capability is far too important to be dependent on Sun."

Netscape confirmed that none of its e-commerce applications now runs on Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX operating system, although one HP-UX application will be released this summer.

"We don't believe they are honest about their intent to have a multiplatform play. Look at Java and standards. If that is any indication of Sun's view of openness, they can't be trusted," the HP executive said.

Sun and HP have been at odds over Sun's control of standards for Java technology, and the two big hardware firms also compete vigorously in the Unix workstation and server markets.

"Netscape has an inferior application," said Pehong Chen, BroadVision's chief executive.

"At the lower level, the tools level, there is ample confusion even among themselves," he said, referring to Sun's marketing of two application servers, one from Sun's acquisition of NetDynamics and the other a product of Netscape's acquisition of Kiva. Sun and AOL have given no clear signal about which will be their "app server" of choice.

The Sun-Netscape alliance has dubbed its e-commerce road map for Netscape's e-commerce applications "Full, Speed, Ahead." The "full" segment includes partnerships with two personalization vendors, NetPerceptions and Andromedia, which markets the Like Minds software. Both are smaller rivals to BroadVision and signal that Sun has dropped Netscape's internal efforts to build personalization into the software.

For configuration software, AOL and Sun are allied with Trilogy and Selectica. All four software partners will work with the former Netscape division to make their software interoperate.

Sun will also announce an outsourced catalog service, run by Aspect Development or Harbinger, for suppliers that want their catalog listings to work with Sun-Netscape electronic procurement software, BuyerXpert. A hosting partner for that service will be announced soon, Sun and AOL said.

That alliance also will name a dozen suppliers who will feed their catalog data directly to BuyerXpert customers, including software store Beyond.com and Dell Computer, and office suppliers Boise Cascade, Office Depot, Staples, and BT Office Products.

In Sun and AOL's "Full, Speed, Ahead" strategy, "speed" refers to expanded partnerships with systems integrators to implement Netscape's e-commerce software. "Ahead" describes accelerated efforts with Sun and former Netscape engineers to improve offerings and ease installation of the e-commerce software. Sun and AOL said new partners will be named in the second half of the year.

The emphasis on partnerships represents something of a departure for the former Netscape, although it had incorporated technology from about 15 other companies in its core e-commerce applications.

"There was probably more development early on to strengthen the core applications," said Daphne Carmelli, a vice president with the Sun-Netscape alliance.

"Now we have more flexibility to do more. It's an evolution, not a departure. No one vendor can do it all."

She said that integrating operations of Sun and the former Netscape group has not begun but business plans are being coordinated.

But Gartner Group e-commerce analyst Chuck Shih, a former Netscaper, said HP has been something of a laggard in e-commerce. Separately, in developing business-portal software with BroadVision it is taking a new approach, Shih said. He also endorsed BroadVision's growing strength in the e-commerce market.

"BroadVision has been announcing alliances with almost everybody, and doing that from a position of strength," Shih said.

IDC analyst Pang, however, recently published a report that rated Netscape's software as tops in the market.

HP's new alliance with BroadVision isn't likely to affect e-commerce rivals IBM or Microsoft greatly. Both sell their own Internet commerce software, and Microsoft intends to add personalization technology from last year's FireFly Network acquisition to Microsoft's product line.