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Tying A Virtual String Around Your Finger

Bits & Bytes


O.K., SO YOU FORGOT MOM'S birthday. You forgot your sister's graduation and your parents' anniversary. Mother's Day is coming--you've got one more chance at redemption. But you're afraid you'll forget to call. Not to worry, USA.NET Inc. has the answer: an E-mail nudge--as many and as frequently as you think you'll need. The Colorado Springs (Colo.) provider of a free E-mail service lets users schedule reminders to themselves. And for the more ambitious, messages may be written and stored for delivery up to five years in advance.

Automatic reminders are becoming more popular as free E-mail services try to build heavily trafficked Web sites, which then attract advertisers. But USA.NET, which has more than 3 million subscribers, is trying to do just a bit more. It also automatically checks and forwards mail from up to five accounts at regular intervals. And, users can send messages with up to five attachments containing a total of 5 Mb--useful for shipping images over the Internet. Oh, and don't forget: Mother's Day is May 10.EDITED BY IRA SAGERReturn to top


TRY AS IT MIGHT, MICROSOFT Corp. can't seem to stop doing things that make it look like it's trying to take over the world. The latest: NITRO.

That's Microsoft's plan to start selling software in August at the Web site, which draws 1.5 million visitors a day. People browsing the site will see "Buy Now" icons wherever products are described. They will be able to click through to buy goods directly from Microsoft or one of its resellers. The company insists that it wants to pass buyers on to the resellers--not keep them for itself. One inducement: Microsoft will charge suggested retail prices, which are typically 10% to 30% higher than retailers.

But won't Microsoft be tempted to lower its prices and cut out the middleman? Nope. The company says it's not interested in selling directly to customers. That doesn't mean resellers won't pay a price for participating, though. They'll fork over "referral" fees of perhaps several dollars for each customer Microsoft sends their way. Plus, resellers will be required to own the latest version of Microsoft's Site Server electronic-commerce software--a strong incentive for them to chuck software they may have already bought from a competitor. If they want to play this game, they play by Microsoft's rules.EDITED BY IRA SAGERReturn to top


TINY INTERWORLD CORP., a three-year-old Silicon Alley company that makes electronic-commerce software, has an impressive $42.5 million in funding from such marquee names as George Soros and Paul Allen. Now, it is getting some major sales help: Big-name computer-services companies Electronic Data Systems Corp., Andersen Consulting, and KPMG Peat Marwick.

The consulting companies appreciate InterWorld's flexible approach to E-commerce. InterWorld, which has 180 employees and is headquartered in lower Manhattan, uses prefabricated software components for specific tasks such as displaying a catalog or billing. Customers utilize these to put order processing, customer-service systems, and catalogs on the Internet. The use of prefab components makes it easy for customers to snap the pieces together to fit their way of doing things--instead of having to create a new method of, say, taking online sales orders.

Another big feature: The software components, which cost between $75,000 and $190,000, connect to corporate programs from SAP and PeopleSoft.EDITED BY IRA SAGERReturn to top

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