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Fusing tools for broadcasting

As newer Web browsers let users tune into Internet broadcasts, tool vendors are close behind with software to build the Web "channels" of the future.

As Netscape Communications (NSCP) and Microsoft (MSFT) release new versions of their browsers that let users tune into Internet broadcasts, tool vendors are close behind with software to build the Web information "channels" of the future.

Companies such as NetObjects and Microsoft are both working to make it easier for users of their Web design tools to create channels--the streams of news headlines, sports statistics, and other data--that will be beamed to users through Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape's Communicator.

Explorer 4.0 and Communicator will both let content providers broadcast information directly to users rather than waiting for users to venture out to their Web sites. Microsoft refers to its broadcast initiative as the Active Desktop, while Netscape has dubbed its technology Constellation.

The browser vendors have promised that information channels can be built using existing standard technologies, such as HTML, JavaScript, and Java.

A new player in the Net broadcast arena, Marimba, has already released a product called Bongo. Bongo is specifically designed for creating channels for the company's Castanet system, which is primarily used for distributing software over the Internet.

But other tools vendors can also be expected to redesign their tools to simplify the process of creating channels. NetObjects, for one, wants to make it easier to use its Fusion to build information channels. Its idea is to create server-side templates that will automatically format and send news headlines and other information.

"We're looking into how we can evolve Fusion to enable content providers to provide push media," said Bernard Desarnauts, senior product manger at NetObjects. "For us, it's a very easy and natural progression."

Desarnauts also said that the company plans to provide comparable templates for the clients so that users can customize the look and feel of their desktops.

Desarnauts said that he expects the new capabilities to appear for Fusion sometime in the first half of next year, shortly after Microsoft and Netscape release their new browsers.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is considering updating its FrontPage design tool to simplify the design of information channels. Microsoft intends to release a new version of the tool every six months in order to account for new browser innovations, including technology such as the Active Desktop.

Adobe Systems (ADBE) has no immediate plans to offer channel design features in its PageMill Web site design tool, but company representatives said it will at least consider including them in future iterations of the product.