SideStep hopes free service gets it more attention

SideStep Inc., a popular alternative to larger online travel sites, is making its free price comparison service available through a Web browser.

Until this week, travelers had to install software on their computers to sift through a SideStep index of the best Internet deals from more than 100 airlines, hotels and rental car agencies. The software threatened to lose its competitive edge as more industry upstarts introduce similar services accessible through Web browsers.

Since its November 2000 debut, SideStep has grown steadily. The company says 7.7 million people have downloaded its software.

SideStep and similar services Mobissimo, Kayak, Farechase and Cheapflights hope to win customers from online travel giants Expedia Inc., Orbitz Inc. and Travelocity.com LP by offering a more comprehensive selection of discount deals.

Forrester Research estimates U.S. travelers spent about $53 billion on trips booked through the Internet last year. SideStep said it accounted for $500 million in trips.

To protect their turf, online travel agencies block some aggregators from listing their information. SideStep’s service, for instance, draws upon Orbitz’s data, but can’t pull prices from Travelocity or Expedia.

Google, the good-doer: Google Inc. is preparing to back up its “don’t be evil” credo with a charitable foundation.

The Mountain View-based search engine company plans to fund the foundation later this year with 1 percent of its stock – a commitment that translates to about 2.7 million shares worth more than $500 million as of Wednesday. Google also intends to donate 1 percent of profits and divert staff to the foundation.

The company’s philanthropic efforts to date have been focused on Google Grants, a program that deploys the Internet’s leading search engine to distribute free text-based advertising links for about 300 charities.

Google hasn’t set a timetable for launching the foundation, but expects to have all the pieces in place later this year, spokesman David Krane said. The company is searching for an executive director for the foundation.

Mapquest adds phone feature: A new feature from Mapquest will allow Web users to send color maps and driving directions to their phones.

Through partnerships with most major service providers, Mapquest already lets users get maps and directions through a phone application called Mapquest Mobile, a premium service that usually costs about $4 a month.

But until now, users had to type in addresses on tiny cell-phone keypads.

The new version lets users obtain directions by entering three-letter airport codes. And users can visit Mapquest.com from a regular PC, use its full-size keyboard to plan trips and hit a button to send the results to the phone. While on the road, friends and assistants can also send maps and directions for them.

Tommy McGloin, general manager of Mapquest, said a version planned for June will add even more features, including location awareness when using GPS-enabled phones. That way, users will have to enter only the destination for driving directions.

Mapquest, a unit of America Online Inc., offers the service through most major providers, except T-Mobile, McGloin said. Users will be able to download and run the mobile software using most current phone models, he said.

Don’t bring it in: Sprint Corp. customers no longer have to bring their handsets to a store to get software upgrades and fixes: The company says it can now do all that over the air.

The new capability, already deployed by carriers overseas, is expected to become increasingly common across the industry as handsets become more like computers, jammed with an array of multimedia programs that occasionally clash because they weren’t written by the same software developer.

The wireless upgrades, available only on newer handsets, would be similar to the updates that Microsoft Corp. periodically distributes over the Internet to fix or enhance its Windows operating system.

From Herald news services

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