(TH)EWORLD ACCORDING TO APPLEON-LINE INTERACTIVE SERVICE LURES RIVALS, TO ABSORB APPLELINK

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Apple Computer wants the world to go on-line.

Apple will go Wednesday to the MACWORLD Expo/San Francisco to announce eWorld, a network of electronic interactive on-line services that will take on Prodigy Services Co., America Online and H&R Block's CompuServe (AA, May 3).

Dow Jones & Co., Ziff Communications, Reuters and Tribune Co. will all deliver services over eWorld.

The new offering will start small this month with an electronic messaging service, NewtonMail, for Newton personal communicators.

In the spring, eWorld will be available for Apple Macintosh computers in the U.S., and expand worldwide later this year or next year. Over time, Apple plans to bundle eWorld with all computers it sells.

The look and feel of eWorld seems as radically different from the likes of Prodigy as Apple Macintosh's icons, mouse and windows were in the computer field 10 years ago.

The eWorld screen will open on a colorful picture of buildings, each housing an area of interest like business, news or computers. After clicking the mouse to enter a building, a subscriber will see a large icon with a headline and explanation of that service.

Peter Friedman, director-general manager of Apple Online Services, likens eWorld to cable TV, with the on-line equivalent of cable channels catering to different audiences.

In the "business center," for example, business information powerhouse Dow Jones will develop a program; computer information giant Ziff will offer a product called "Working Smarter" in the "computer center." Subscribers can also connect to Internet, the fast-growing global on-line network.

Reuters, a Dow Jones rival, and Tribune Co., a diversified media company, are also developing services to offer on eWorld. Regis McKenna Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., public relations consultancy, will provide news and on-line discussions in a service for marketing executives.

"We're going to have a hundred [service providers] by the time this ships," Apple's Mr. Friedman said.

At some point, Apple will offer eWorld for personal computers using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software, bringing the service into the mainstream computer market. "We're not giving an exact date on that, but we will be as aggressive as we can," Mr. Friedman said.

Initially, eWorld is targeting business people. But the service will have some consumer offerings like games, movie information and an on-line encyclopedia. Ads will be accepted eventually, but details haven't been worked out yet. Apple has no immediate plans for a major eWorld campaign. General advertising could eventually come from BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles and/or Wunderman Cato Johnson, San Francisco, Apple's U.S. direct response agency.

Apple will charge subscribers $8.95 a month, including 2 hours of use during non-peak periods. Additional off-peak time will run $4.95 an hour. The rate during business hours will be $7.90 an hour.

Eventually, service sponsors will be given some control over what customers pay and the services they get. Mr. Friedman said some spon sors might offer discounts to subscribers willing to receive ad messages.

He said getting people to try the service will be comparatively easy, largely because the service will be included in new Apple computers.

"We know that we could get extraordinary num bers of people to sign up," Mr. Friedman said. "Keeping them and hav ing a viable economic model"-also known as making money-"is what we have to do, and that hasn't been done before."

Apple for years has op erated an employee electronic mail system, AppleLink, that evolved into an on-line service also available to Apple customers and computer product developers. AppleLink has 60,000 users worldwide, including more than 45,000 outside the company who pay about $32 million a year for the service, Mr. Friedman said. Apple plans to fold AppleLink into eWorld by early next year.

Mr. Friedman said the goal with eWorld is to expand to "millions of subscribers" and "several hundred million dollars" in annual revenue within five years. Even with that ambitious goal, eWorld would remain a small part of Apple, whose revenue hit $8 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 24.

Apple is pushing into a market already staked out by rivals, but Mr. Friedman said the on-line category is so nascent that competition isn't an issue. Worldwide, he estimated, only about 3 million people use on-line services, a tiny fraction of computer users.

"This industry has hardly started," he said. "We think this is at its bare infancy. It's sort of like television just came out, and all you've got is radio with pictures."

Among the existing services, the largest is Prodigy, a joint venture of IBM Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., claiming 2 million members. But Prodigy has yet to turn a profit.M

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Computer screens of eWorld will feature pictures of buildings that house particular areas of interest, like business, news or computers.

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