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Platforms

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A platform consists of the software and/or hardware that allows a computer system to run. Two of the most well-known personal computer (PC) platforms are DOS and Windows, both manufactured by Microsoft Corp. They typically run on microprocessors, such as the Pentium, developed by Intel Corp. Apple Computer Co.'s Macintosh system is another major PC platform, and UNIX is a well known platform for networking systems.

In terms of e-commerce, platforms are what allow businesses to conduct business electronically. They include technology that allows online merchants to showcase their wares online, accept payment, keep track of customers, provide customer support, and complete many other tasks that brick-and-mortar establishments perform manually. An example of a highly successful e-commerce platform is the one built and used by online retailing titan Amazon.com. In fact, the platform worked so well for Amazon that traditional retailers struggling to move into e-commerce, such as Toys 'R' Us and Borders, gave up on developing their own technology and opted to let Amazon's e-commerce platform power their Web sites.

Initially, e-commerce platforms mainly focused on allowing e-merchants to publish their catalogs electronically and handle online transactions. Eventually, however, the platforms grew beyond these basic business-to-consumer (B2C) functions to include the content management, personalization, and back-end business management features desired by firms engaged in both B2C and business-to-business (B2B) commerce. As a growing number of companies began handling all types of business operations online, many traditional firms began developing e-commerce platforms. For example, IBM Corp. created the Web-Sphere platform, and Microsoft Corp. developed its BizTalk platform. They competed with startups like Blue Martini Software Inc., founded in 1998; Inter-World Corp., founded in 1995; and Germany's Inter-shop Communications, which developed Enfinity, ranked the top e-commerce platform by Forrester Research Inc.'s eBusiness TechRankings.

FURTHER READING:

Meister, Frank. "E-Commerce Platforms Mature." InformationWeek. October 23, 2000. Available from www.informationweek.com.

"Platform." In Ecommerce Webopedia. Darien, CT: Internet.com, 2001. Available from e-comm.webopedia.com.

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