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Network Associates opens "smart portal"

The site aims to give PC users a one-stop space to keep their machines in tune and up-to-date.

    A month later than originally planned, Network Associates is unveiling its "smart portal" in preview mode, giving PC users a Web site to tune up their PCs and collaborate using hosted email, calendars, file storage, and document collaboration.

    Called McAfee Online, the new site will rely primarily on user subscriptions and software sales for revenue, although it will eventually sell ads too.

    Network Associates defines its "smart portal" as going beyond content to include applications, many of them from the company's antivirus and PC utility software.

    "This is the portal of the future," declared Srivats Sampath, the general manager of Network Associates' McAfee division who oversees the new project. The company hopes to capitalize on the 14.7 million visitors to its Web site in November. Network Associates first discussed the revamp in October.

    Network Associates will have plenty of in-house software to tie to McAfee Online--the company has been on an acquisition binge in the last 14 months, buying network management firm Network General, encryption software pioneer Pretty Good Privacy, firewall firm Trusted Information Systems, security tools firm Secure Networks, antivirus firm Dr. Solomon, and desktop utilities firm CyberMedia.

    Sampath argues that because "smart portals" require sophisticated applications, software companies are the most likely entrants into what he calls a new category. He sees Microsoft and potentially Netscape, depending on what new owner America Online does with the latter company, as likely competitors.

    Analysts have discussed the emergence of specialized or "vertical" portal sites, something akin to what Network Associates is pursuing. Examples include Intuit's Quicken.com for personal finance, eTrade for investing, or a health care company for medical information.

    Netscape, for example, is franchising its content and software for vertical portals through its Custom Netcenter program that went into beta this week, and Healtheon is aggregating health information and applications to franchise to its health-care provider customers.

    McAfee Online's initial offerings will include downloads of Network Associates products, a software store run by Beyond.com with 30,000 products, search and content from Snap, McAfee Clinic, and a portable desktop from Visto called McAfee Briefcase, and technology news. (CNET: The Computer Network, parent of News.com, holds a stake in Snap)

    McAfee Clinic is designed for sophisticated PC users to secure, optimize, diagnose, and fix their PCs on the Web. The subscription service, priced at $49.95 a year or $5.95 a month, includes Network Associates' VirusScan, QuickClean, Advisor, and the Virus Information Library. During the preview period, which will last 69-90 days, McAfee Clinic and the Briefcase will be free.

    Sampath hopes advertisers will find the demographics of Network Associates' visitors attractive--visitors typically 35-50 years of age, largely male, with annual incomes of $40,000 to $125,000. DoubleClick Network will sell ads.

    In the future, McAfee Online will add features including more applications for McAfee Clinic, perhaps encryption and desktop optimization, and partner services.

    The site is optimized for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser; support for Netscape Navigator will begin early next year.