Netscape Communications has agreed a joint venture with GE Information Systems - a division of the huge General Electric Corporation - to develop and market software designed to ease the path of commerce over the Internet.
The high-profile collaboration, called Actra Business Systems, will combine Netscape's Navigator Web browser with GEIS' expertise in electronic document interchange (EDI). Actra has promised to deliver product in the first half of next year.
The project is seen as the best hope to kick-start the much touted move towards doing business over the Net. GEIS president and CEO Hellene Runtagh said the deal would open the door for end-to-end business over the Internet.
The two companies are equal partners in the joint company, and staff will initially be drawn from both.
GEIS said its initial product development would be in creating a business gateway to facilitate the exchange of EDI and messages between businesses and trading partners, and a suite of server software products designed to streamline sourcing, ordering, purchasing and payment. Actra will use Netscape's Internet encryption technology to secure transactions over the Internet. US analysts claim that sales over the Internet accounted for $350 million last year, compared with a huge $53 billion for the mail-order catalogue business.
In the continuing game of tit-for-tat with Netscape, Microsoft has set up an alliance with Digital and MCI Communications to capture the intranet market by delivering intranet systems. The partnership is designed to trump Netscape's alliance with AT&T and IBM, which are working on their own solutions.
Digital chairman Bob Palmer said the deal would exploit MCI's communications expertise and integration capabilities and Digital's technology and support services.
Products are expected to ship in the US by the summer.
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