Calico Technology's introduction in early 1996 of Release 7.7 of its highly sophisticated sales quotation and configuration software enabled manufacturers to extend their enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) systems out to the Internet. The latest version, known as Concinity, takes the technology a step further by adding client/server capability over the Internet. Using Microsoft's ActiveX component architecture -- which allows software "objects" to be distributed over the Internet -- Concinity offers users an "interactive Internet client," explains David Rome, Calico's marketing VP. More than a mere "product selector," the Calico software enables customers to browse a vendor's options, configure their selections, and buy complex products or services online without a sales representative. "We're very focused on doing configuration over the Internet," Rome says. "We rebuilt our front-end client model based on ActiveX. So when a user logs on to a customer's Web site, it will automatically download ActiveX components to the browser. The components run in the browser -- which becomes a 'light' client." Communication is faster, he explains, because once the objects are downloaded, they communicate directly with the Calico server rather than through a Web server. Most Internet-based product configurators, Rome points out, employ a Web Page approach where the user has to enter all of his selections before getting a response. But Concinity provides "a truly interactive user experience where every click of the mouse gets instant, click-by-click feedback. When you do complex configuration, you need guidance -- and the only way to get it is if the browser has intelligence built into it. It's a little like downloading a piece of the sales rep." Calico's software is designed to handle the product complexity often associated with the business-to-business market -- as well as such consumer products as insurance. Employing a "user-guiding behavior" approach, it can walk the customer through a series of questions to configure the order. It will even allow users to select invalid combinations of options to discover where earlier selections conflict with a desired choice. A primary benefit of product-configuration software is that it eliminates errors in order configuration, thus improving customer satisfaction and reducing product returns. Cisco Systems, the fast-growing supplier of internetworking products, initially deployed the Calico software on laptops used by its sales force -- and achieved a 30% reduction in the order-entry error rate. The Calico software integrates with ERP systems and automatically translates bills of materials into constraint- and rules-based models that can rapidly be deployed on the Internet by companies with rapidly changing product lines. It eliminates the need for sales and manufacturing to maintain separate configuration systems. And because it requires only 1.2 megabytes of RAM, the Calico configurator model can coexist on a laptop with other applications. The same model can be used on a server for Web applications.