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ISPs expand their menus

Internet service providers continue to add entrees to their menu of offerings, hoping to get the edge in an increasingly cutthroat marketplace.

As fast as a short-order cook, Internet service providers continue to add entrees to their menu of offerings, hoping to get the edge in an increasingly cutthroat marketplace against telephone companies and proprietary online services, as well as each other.

The latest entry is offline Web browsing. Netcom today became the first major ISP to strike a deal for bundling an offline Web browser into its product. It reached agreement with Traveling Software to allow business customers to take their Web information with them and view it at their convenience--independent of a Net connection.

"Offline Internet access is a real benefit to our members, who tend to be business professionals on the go," said Doug McLean, senior director of product marketing for Netcom, in a statement. The product, dubbed Netcom Unplugged by WebEx, is included in the Netcomplete package for business people for $39.95.

Offline browsing is gaining popularity to help alleviate download times. The technique works by downloading content from Web sites at night or other off-peak times while a PC is being used for other tasks. Although it sacrifices timeliness because the information isn't "live" when viewed, it is useful for downloading large, time-consuming multimedia files.

Players in offline Web browsing include Traveling Software, Freeloader, PointCast, FirstFloor, and ForeFront Group's WebWhacker. Like many Net markets, the field is getting crowded. Traveling Software has been expanding through acquisitions.

Microsoft's next version of its Internet Explorer browser also is expected to incorporate offline browsing capabilities.