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LAST WEEK, Netscape Communications entered a fresh market with the announcement of new Netcenter services and software, BillerXpert, to enable companies to process payments over the Net. Netscape says its software allows companies such as banks, telecommunications and domestic utility service providers not only to save on billing costs by using e- mail and the Internet, but also to strengthen links with customers by letting them change and configure their own services.

As part of its initiative to strengthen the appeal of Netcenter to small businesses, Netscape said it is buying AtWeb, a provider of products and web-design management and marketing services to small and independent businesses. The acquisition will help integrate 600,000 small business websites with Netcenter's installed user base of 70 million.Netscape hopes to complete the acquisition in a stock deal by the end of 1999's first quarter. .

MICROSOFT AND Qualcomm have each invested $25m to form a joint company, WireLess Knowledge, aimed at expanding the availability of digital information over wireless devices, including telephones and handheld appliances. Cellphone operators in the US such as AT&T, BellSouth and Sprint have agreed to support the data service which could be in operation by April.

WireLess Knowledge aims to integrate different wireless networks and different devices through a network operating centre, allowing people to use digital phones, Windows-based desktop computers, and Windows CE- based handheld devices to connect to the Internet and corporate networks using Microsoft software. Microsoft and Qualcomm also said they will work to incorporate Windows CE into a forthcoming custom chip that Qualcomm can use in cell phone designs. They will also co-operate on integrating Windows CE into a variety of wireless devices.

APPLE AIMS to have a new version of QuickTime ready for release in January, expected to facilitate live audio and video streaming over the Internet and allow Apple to compete on features with Microsoft's NetShow streaming software. Despite current limitations, QuickTime is still installed in nearly 70 per cent of Windows PCs.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has released a patch to fix the support of QuickTime in its Windows media player. It said that it had not deliberately disabled the software, as alleged in the anti-trust case currently under way, but that the fault lay in bad programming and faulty design by Apple.

E-COMMERCE IN Britain received a boost last week with the opening of UK versions of two online travel sites. Microsoft's Expedia, and Travelocity,, are both successful American sites tailoring their services for the British market. In the US, Expedia has sold one million tickets in two years, while Travelocity has sold 2.5 million and reports month-on-month sales rises of 37 per cent.


IBM last Wednesday unveiled the largest hard drives available for PCs. A 25Gb drive, the Deskstar 25GP, operating at 5,400 revolutions per minute, is designed for the consumer PC user. The 22Gb Deskstar 22GXP drive, operating at a faster 7,200 revolutions per minute, is targeted at video editors, engineers and scientists. The drives will be available in PCs on sale before Christmas in systems from IBM, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard. In the first quarter of next year, the drives will be widely available.

IBM has announced the formation of a new software company, Corepoint Technologies, offering customer service and management software integrating voicemail, the Web and database information. The focus on customer services software is part of a strategy shift as IBM targets the higher-profit computer services and software businesses, lessening its reliance on hardware sales.

ATTENTION IN the anti-trust trial brought against Microsoft by the US government turned to the so-called Wintel partnership between the software company and Intel. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Microsoft had bullied Intel into dropping work on its own multimedia and Internet software. The DOJ argued that Microsoft feared Intel's Native Signal Processing (NSP) software, which used instructions from Intel's chips rather than Microsoft software code to make programs and applications run faster. In video excerpts, Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, said its opposition was based on technical issues.

Steven McGeady, Intel's vice-president for content, said Microsoft made "credible and fairly terrifying" threats that support for Intel's MMX and P7 chips would be withheld if NSP development continued. McGeady said Microsoft had behaved similarly in trying to force Intel not to support Sun's Java programming language. Microsoft responded by using e-mail sent by McGeady to other companies to portray him as a disgruntled employee who held a grudge against Microsoft.