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Net messaging for small business

A small start-up will launch a Net-based messaging service that gives small businesses big-business features.

A small start-up will launch later this month a Net-based messaging service that gives small businesses features available only to big spenders until now.

InterResearch & Development Group (IRdg) will launch iPost, a "universal messaging system" which the company said can stream voice, fax, email and pager messages into one Internet inbox. Users can access messages by telephone, fax or email and fax images can be included as email attachments, according to Jonathan Taylor, IRdg's president.

"It's fully universal and completely Internet-based, so you can get your messages how ever you prefer," Taylor said.

iPost messages can be accessed through any Web browser, or they can be forwarded to email addresses on other systems, such as Lotus Development's Notes or an America Online account, according to the company.

The initial version of iPost is aimed at small and mid-size businesses. Taylor said he hopes to attract them by offering an inexpensive way to match the kind of one-stop messaging that has previously been available only in big-ticket email engines, such as Novell's GroupWise. The company may also develop a version of the product for larger businesses later this year.

Taylor said his company has gone one step beyond the competitors like Novell and Octel by opening up its product to a wider range of access points through the Net.

"iPost can integrate with anything that can talk Internet," Taylor said.

The company was formed about two years ago to develop iPost. The software was designed to be deployed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), paging services, and cellular phone companies, and to be embedded in an array of hardware and software, said Taylor.

Starting in about two weeks, iPost will host two new consumer services on its Web site. The full send-and-receive capabilities of the iPost Universal Box service will be available for $24.95 a month, while a receive-only service, called the iPost Universal Courier, will cost $12.95 a month, Taylor said.

"Small-business owners can get that big-company image for $24.95 a month," said Taylor.

The company said it has already signed up customers, who have been using the service for free since December. The company will offer access to the service on the Net, through a local Florida provider, and through a toll-free line. The toll-free line, however, will carry an initial 15 cents per minute surcharge, which Taylor said he hopes to reduce to about 10 cents a minute later this year.

The company plans to being rolling out iPost to ISPs in May. It is already in trials with the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson, which has integrated iPost into phone systems at the University of California at Santa Cruz and San Diego State University.