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The hi-tech investor: Websites show they're up to the minute on shares

THE BATTLE to win the hearts and minds of internet investors is becoming more intense by the week. Share prices and information are clearly this summer's favourite features for websites. The latest company to join the fray is Freequotes, which has just launched its own share information service. As the name suggests, the data is free.

Freequotes is linked to themutual.net, a free internet service that has also just launched. The idea behind themutual.net is that its users will also be shareholders in the company. Anyone who signs up to use themutual.net for their net access is entitled to an equity stake in the firm.

Only internet users who register with themutual.net can use Freequotes. However, net users can become members of themutual.net without using it as their internet service provider, and still qualify to use Freequotes.

Once users have logged on, they can build a portfolio of stocks and view real-time prices. Most other internet sites either show prices with a 15-minute delay, or they charge for access. As Simon Wajcenberg, joint managing director of Freequotes, says: "Anyone who trades stocks and shares will know that 15 minutes is a long time."

As well as prices, Freequotes supplies financial news from AFX and charting from Bigcharts. The site is one of the more basic investment information services, and some parts are a little tricky to use. The hot list of stocks, for example, can be hard to read. The site also displays advertisements which are aimed at a US audience. One advert displayed on Freequotes was for online stockbroking from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, a service that is only open to US investors.

Nor is Freequotes the only company offering free real-time stock prices. UK Invest provides a similar service, either through Freeserve or directly to visitors to its website. Net users who want real-time pricing have to fill in a simple registration form, but there are no other charges.

UK Invest is rapidly becoming one of the most comprehensive personal finance sites on the net. The service also provides a range of articles on investment, business and personal finance. Much of this is available to anyone, even if they choose not to register.

Like Freequotes, UK Invest provides market news and charting for individual stocks. The design and layout of the service is more sophisticated and attractive, but this does come at a cost. UK Invest's pages take longer to load, and part of the site uses Java. Users of older computers or older web browsers will find that some features, such as the charts, work less than perfectly on their machines. For investors who want the basics quickly, Freequotes probably has the edge; for internet users who want more detail, UK Invest is worth a look.

n Freequotes: www.freequotes.co.uk; UK Invest: www.ukinvest.com (or via www.freeserve.net)

n Stephen Pritchard can be contacted at Hi-tech-investor @dial.pipex.com