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Freecom.net buy shows up teenage Web firms

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Freecom.net has coughed up 31.9 million for accounting software business Systems Union. Billed as a rejection of the dot.com model, it is simply a case of a businessman, Michael Williams, using the inflated price of Net ventures intelligently, rather than running headlong into a wall like a hormone-crazed teenager. The blind faith and frequent stupidity of Web companies has made Williams' business sense look like a next-generation model. It is far from that - in fact, it is the classic case of buying stability with cash. It's not even new within the Internet economy. There are many companies doing just this (some well, some not so well) but then "Net firm buys into safe bet" is hardly a sexy headline. Williams, Freecom's chief executive, has done a grand job. As well as Systems Union, Freecom has also acquired another accountancy software company, Pegasus (lowish/medium-end, Systems Union is medium/highish-end) and Web site designer Oneview.net. He has used the dotcom cash pile (and of course shares in itself) to build as a firm foundation and allow Freecom to go one of several ways. Becoming an ASP (applications service provider - hiring out software to firms over the internet) is certainly one of them. Then, with this initial setup completed, Williams says he will concentrate on developing e-commerce services for the recently acquired customer base, and throws in the catchline about leaving the flawed dotcom "cash-burn" model behind to get the press interested. Shares have barely budged though. But as we know, the City is always right when it comes to Internet stocks. ®

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