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Voxware to launch IPO

Maker of Internet voice technology to enter market at a volatile time.

Voxware, a voice technology company backed by Netscape Communications, plans to sell stock to the public for the first time.

The Princeton, New Jersey-based company has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to register 4 million common shares for sale, Bloomberg news service reported.

Officials at Netscape, which plans to use Voxware technology in a new version of its software for navigating the Internet, said they have been very pleased with the product. Voxware was able to compress audio data at twice the rate of its competitors, said Duane Fields, a Netscape product manager.

"It lets us really squeeze the data through the line," Fields said, adding that Netscape's Navigator 3.0 browser will let computer users speak to each other over the Internet.

Netscape and Intel each own 1 million shares, or a 5.6 percent stake, of Voxware. In addition, according to the SEC filing, Intel is a Voxware customer, building the technologies into its processor platforms. Intel is also an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.

Other well-known corporate customers to which Voxware has licensed its products include America Online, Apple Computer, and Microsoft.

Voxware's proprietary MetaVoice coding technology allows customers to compress, model, and transform speech. The capability can be used in everything from voice-enabled Web pages to voice messaging.

Voxware says it expects to price the shares at $7 to $8, bringing the company about $27 million.

Should the offering actually take place, it would be a minor miracle in today's market. Most U.S. initial public offerings slated for last week were postponed as a volatile stock market kept underwriters from setting prices for the shares.

Nineteen of 31 scheduled offerings weren't completed as the stock market was whipsawed by fears about second-quarter profits followed by expectations the economy will slow without slipping into a recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average started the week by plunging more than 328 points, or 5.9 percent, only to regain most of the drop, or 244 points, in the second half of the week.

With more than 150 companies waiting to make initial public offerings--double the number last year at this time--more IPOs could be canceled. Thirty-two are scheduled for this week alone.