Small Biz Portals Catch Fire

A week after Microsoft Corp. announced its intent to field a small-business portal, bCentral.

A week after Microsoft Corp. announced its intent to field a small-business portal, bCentral.com, Winstar Communications Inc. and Excite@Home have gone live with their own counter-offerings.

Winstar's New Media Company Inc. division launched on Friday the content for its much-anticipated office.com commerce tools and content site. Winstar announced earlier this year that Yahoo!'s small business site planned to offer the office.com content and services. In April, CBS announced it was taking a 33 1/3 percent stake in office.com. Winstar has promised a full-scale launch of office.com would occur in the third quarter of this year.

At the 1999 Global Convegence Summit in New York this week, Winstar Communications chairman and CEO Will Rouhana told attendees that broadband services vendor Winstar was interested in playing in the content business in order to help spur demand for more and more bandwidth.

"We are putting content into the net, because, without it, the network wouldn't be useful to anyone," said Rouhana. "We are trying to put together broadband networking, transport and switching layers, web hosting and on the very top, applications."

On Thursday, Excite@Home went live with its own small-business portal, which it has dubbed Work.com. Like Microsoft's bCentral, the beta of which Microsoft made live this week, and like office.com, Work.Com is a collection of tips and tools for customers interested in cashing in on the commerce experience.

Microsoft's bCentral, which includes among its offerings Microsoft's LinkExchange ad services, is part of Microsoft's revamped MSN service.

Traditional portal/search vendors aren't the only way vendors are targeting small businesses. A growing number of software vendors are offering hosted commerce applications and services, like the zShops capability announced this week by Amazon.com. Others, like HotOffice Technologies Inc., are offering a suite of small-business services like calendaring, email, chat, via deals like the one HotOffice inked in August with Staples.

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