Just three months after buying Verifone Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. has announced another electronic commerce initiative-this time with AT&T Corp.

The two companies agreed this week to form a non-exclusive alliance to develop systems for Internet-based commerce.

The first set of offerings, which lets merchants sell goods over electronic networks including the Internet, already is available, a legacy of the companies' previous cooperation.

"This market does accord advantages to first movers," said Glenn Osaka, vice president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard's extended enterprise business unit.

Kathleen Earley, vice president of AT&T networked commerce services, added, "Our goal is to give companies the confidence to invest in the Internet."

One of the key joint initiatives will enable merchants to host Web sites for secure transactions.

The processing of credit card transactions from merchant Web sites will be handled by AT&T through its SecureBuy service.

Under the agreement, 15,000 HP resellers will market and sell AT&T's Web site services. In addition, the companies' research laboratories will collaborate on projects aimed at making network computing more compatible, reliable, and scalable.

The two companies also are working with Icat Corp., which creates and manages Web-based catalogs, and with Open Market Inc., a provider of Internet commerce software.

Ms. Earley was eager to point out that the alliance does not disintermediate banks.

"This is not about settlement or e-cash, but about offering a buying, ordering, and fulfillment service," she said. "The merchant still has to go through the normal banking relationship."

However, Tony Robertson, an analyst with Robertson Stephens in San Francisco, said "I wouldn't pay too much attention to denials at this stage. In the whole area of electronic commerce, everyone is getting involved, seeing what's there, and then some are making adjustments-often radical ones."

HP executives said the alliance could jump-start consumer participation in electronic commerce.

"Banks are looking for a boost in the volume of traffic," said Mr. Osaka. "The proof of the pudding will be the increase in the number of commercial transactions over the Internet."

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