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Sun-Netscape Alliance, Sybase jump into Web portals

The latest entries in the Web portal sweepstakes plan to ship new software that will let businesses create Web sites for their customers, partners and employees.

The Sun-Netscape Alliance and Sybase are the newest entries in the Web portal software sweepstakes.

The two companies will soon ship new software that will let businesses create Web sites for their customers, partners and employees. The software will help companies build sites that let people access email, corporate resources and information, as well as commerce offerings.

The Sun-Netscape Alliance and Sybase join rivals IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and others in the crowded but lucrative Web portal software market. Analysts expect sales of e-commerce-related software to explode in the coming years as companies try to move their existing computing systems to the Web.

"It's basically a screen to access...everything you need," said Giga Information Group analyst Terilyn Palanca. "Who's going to buy this? Every corporation, because they want you, whether internally or externally, to be able to interface with them."

For example, a corporate Web portal can offer employees email, stock quotes, news and corporate resources, such as human resources information or updated sales data. The portal for partners and suppliers will allow companies to conduct business online, while the portal aimed at customers will profile Web surfers and target information based on their interests and buying habits.

Sun-Netscape Alliance and Sybase executives said their portal software can help businesses link to their existing software, such as human resources and financial applications, as well as to information located in databases. The software will also give people secure connections to the Web, they said.

Sybase executives said its portal product--called Sybase Enterprise Portal--will feature a built-in application server as well as software from other vendors, including Vignette, which makes software that helps businesses manage content, and Autonomy, whose software allows users to conduct Web searches. An application server is software that handles transactions between a Web browser and a back-end computing system.

The Sun-Netscape Alliance, a partnership between Sun Microsystems and America Online, said its portal software, called iPlanet Portal Server, offers similar partnerships and features.

The goal is to provide an all-in-one software product that gives businesses the services they need, so corporate developers don't have to waste time by buying all the software separately and trying to integrate them, said David Jacobson, a Sybase marketing director.

"It reduces system management and reduces the time it takes you to 'rev' your sites," he said.

Alliance executives said the company's portal product will work in conjunction with its existing e-commerce software: an application server; Web server software that delivers Web pages to people browsing the Net; and directory software, technology that serves as a central information database for users, systems and software.

The Alliance plans to ship iPlanet Portal Server in the second quarter. Sybase will ship Sybase Enterprise Portal in April. The companies have not announced pricing.