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Demo 2000: Startups jostle for attention

Demo 2000 preview: More than 80 firms will tout everything from software to soda pop at this annual tech product showcase. Here are the ones to watch

Whether you're pining for convenience when buying a soft drink or planning a software project, there will be a startup company ready to help at Demo 2000, which gets under way Monday.

Among the 80-plus vendors due to attend the show in Indian Wells, California, will be ThinkFree.com, which will launch an applications portal and announce its first software product, ThinkFree Office -- a free productivity suite.

The suite includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, email, address book and file management applications. They're all compatible with Microsoft's Office and can be accessed with a browser from any Java-supporting platform.

The Los Altos, California, company will pit ThinkFree Office against Microsoft's Office Online program and Sun Microsystems's StarPortal initiative.

But can it get more attention from IT than the collective yawn garnered by its competitors? Don't count on it, some said.

"I don't think in the long run they're going to succeed," IT consultant Robert Laird said bluntly. "You have to make sure the applications are running 100 percent locally."

Executives at MS2 hope they'll fare better. The Mountain View, California, company will unveil at the show MS2 Accelerate, a cross between a planning application, such as Microsoft Project, and an enterprise workflow application, officials said.

The product is designed particularly for high-tech companies and comes with business logic that supports so-called best business practices. MS2 Accelerate lets all employees of a company input and receive data on a particular project. The information is controlled on a central server.

On the soft drink front, TeleVend, of Jerusalem, will introduce m-com, or mobile commerce, technology.

TeleVend plans to launch a pilot program in the United States later this year that will allow mobile phones and other wireless devices to act like electronic credit cards and make purchases instantly.

Such technology, analysts said, is already being used in several northern European countries.

Also expected to be on hand at Demo: LoudCloud, the Menlo Park, California, startup hatched in September by Netscape Communications founder Marc Andreessen and a host of other top Netscape executives.

LoudCloud is building up a back-end infrastructure that will be geared toward the application service provider market.

Ben Elgin of Sm@rt Reseller contributed to this report

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