BEST, EXACT BIDDING FOR SOFTLINE: Sage Group plc, the U.K.-based parent of Best Software, has joined a bidding war for Softline Ltd., the South African parent of the developers of North American business software applications BusinessVision, AccountMate and Datafaction.

Softline’s Web site reports that Sage sent a letter expressing its interest in acquiring Softline for 1.8 Rand per share, which compares to the 1.45 Rand per share proposed two weeks earlier by minority Softline shareholder Ivan Ferrer and Exact Software, the Dutch parent of Exact North America, the vendor formerly known as Macola. Softline is also the subject of a 1.30 Rand per share bid by some internal managers.

Softline stock, which trades on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, was selling at 1.60 Rand per share when news of the Sage proposal broke in late June. It has been steadily rising from 1.17 Rand per share since the internal managers announced their offer in April.

In U.S. dollars, the Sage offer is about $90.4 million, versus about $72.9 million from Ferrer and Exact, and about $66 million from the internal managers. Ferrer, who owns 1.5 percent of Softline’s 392 million shares, is the founder of Pastel Software, a low-cost, small business accounting software developer that Softline acquired in 1999.

Softline shareholders were scheduled to meet July 21 to discuss the internal management offer. The Exact-Ferrer group said that, pending due diligence, it planned to formally make its offer at the meeting.

While neither Best nor Softline officials would comment for this report, a Sage deal would apparently make better sense from a North American operations standpoint. AccountMate software could conceivably be placed in Best’s middle-market division and give that group its first product with open source code, while BusinessVision could fit in Best’s Small Business Group, since it is heavily marketed to companies outgrowing the functionality of entry-level software, such as Best’s small business flagship line, Peachtree.

Meanwhile, Exact North America’s products primarily target distribution/manufacturing end-users, while Softline’s product line targets multiple industries.

TIW OFFERS FREE SOFTWARE SAMPLES: Manufacturing software development specialist TIW Technology Inc. is providing free samples of Alere, the accounting software for very small businesses, which it launched in 2001, partly to take market share from Intuit’s QuickBooks.

The Easton, Pa.-based TIW is offering Alere for a free, 30-day trial. The trial can be obtained from a local TIW reseller or by calling TIW directly at (610) 258-5161 ext. 717.

The free offer comes on the heels of the release of the latest edition of the product. Major enhancements in Alere 3.1 include business consolidation, which combines financial results of two or more companies into one income statement and one balance sheet; an executive advisor, which provides real-time data from major information areas on one screen; and the ability to export to the F9 report writer.

NETLEDGER IN ALLIANCE WITH HEWLETT-PACKARD: Web-based business software developer Net-Ledger and hardware giant Hewlett-Packard have entered into a partnership to “market hardware and software solutions to customers through multiple channels, including solution providers.”

This relationship gives NetLedger, which has some 200 channel partners and heavily recruits from the accounting industry, access to HP’s channel of over 5,000 resellers, who will be called on to market a NetLedger product line that includes the application service provider-based NetSuite and Oracle Small Business Suite business management systems.

“Our strategy is to work with solution providers who have an equal commitment to SMBs,” said Robyn West, vice president of Small and Midsized Businesses for HP’s Personal Systems Group. “NetLedger has a real solution, support structure and expertise that is here today.”

“This deal really extends our belief that channel sales are integral to the ASP model,” said NetLedger chief executive Zack Nelson.

-- Compiled by John M. Covaleski

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