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By Yuval Dror

Microsoft Israel's Haifa facility is developing a security server package that will compete head on with the products of market leader Check Point.Some 70 programmers, under Avi Natan, have been working for three years to develop the new products. They are aimed at small- and medium-sized organizations, and will run under the Windows 2000 operating system.

Microsoft has just issued its evaluation version of the system - a first step toward seeking a share of the world's information-protection market. The new Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) is an enhanced version of Microsoft's earlier Proxy 2.0 product, also developed in Haifa. ISA was originally designed to increase surfing speed and included a few security components.

The new version consists of the accelerator, a firewall security system, a virtual private network (VPN) and smart application filters that reinforce the system and locate breaches. It also features management tools and user "wizards" to provide a user-friendly interface for security managers.

The new system made an unexpected debut at Microsoft's quarterly conference at Tel Aviv's Exhibition Grounds on Thursday. The meeting, intended for company experts to update their software engineers on the latest developments, turned into a curious confrontation between Microsoft and Check Point.

Check Point, is one of the largest computer security companies in the world, boasting firewall programs and VPNs among its flagship products. Its shares trade on the Nasdaq for about $143 and reflect a market value of $21.9 billion. In the first nine months of 2000, Check Point's revenues totaled some $285 million, an 88 percent increase over the same period in 1999.

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At the meeting, a Check Point representative spent 45 minutes explaining the complexities of his company's systems to the Microsoft audience, explaining how they operate on a variety of platforms - Unix, NT, Solaris and Linux.

Immediately afterward, Microsoft's representative took to the podium and did the exact opposite, demonstrating the simplicity and speed of setting up a VPN: "You select the computer (to be networked), click the 'wizard', click 'next', click 'finish', and that's it. The VPN is ready."

Microsoft Israel's product manager, Yaron Eli, said later that although the ISA is easy to operate and uses automatic wizards, it can be fine-tuned to each organization's specific needs.

Naftali Keren, Check Point's regional director for the Middle East and Africa, admitted being impressed by the power of Microsoft's new ISA server, but he pointed out its target market would be mainly small- and medium-sized businesses.

Eli said an ISA designed for individual systems will cost about $1,500, while one geared for large organizations would run $6,000, depending on the number of processors using the system.

Conference participants were surprised to learn that comparable Check Point products sell for only $300 to $1,000.

"Give me a Check Point for $300, and I'll take two," said one of them. Needless to say, Check Point's people made a note of his phone number.