Trintech Group, an Ireland-based payment software company, said it processed a landmark SET transaction last month through Visa International.

Trintech said the transaction, the culmination of a series of electronic commerce compliance tests, brought the ideal of interoperability a step closer.

The on-line payment went through two Trintech systems-the PayPurse electronic wallet and PayWare merchant software-to the Visa gateway system in California that is based on International Business Machines Corp. technology.

Like IBM and others promoting secure card payment systems that comply with the MasterCard-Visa SET, or Secure Electronic Transactions, standard, Trintech has been driving toward cross-vendor interoperability. Now it is staking its claim.

Trintech co-founder and chief executive officer John McGuire said the Dec. 23 transaction was "of enormous significance" in getting merchant and gateway software to talk to each other. The lack of compatibility "was like two people speaking to each other in the same language but different dialects."

"Trintech has succeeded in making electronic commerce interoperable," Mr. McGuire boasted. "This starts the process of making secure Internet business truly open and vendor-neutral."

He said Trintech will be doing similar interoperability testing with other Internet payment gateways.

Founded in 1986 as a point of sale systems company similar to Verifone Inc., the pioneer in card authorization terminals, Trintech has, like Verifone, developed a strong smart card and Internet commerce thrust. It works with all the major card organizations and has been quite close to Visa, providing, for example, the software for the off-line chip card system that went live last month at Inkombank in Moscow.

Trintech was also involved in a demonstration in October at the Visa Latin America annual meeting that was said to be the first international payment under the SET 1.0 version.

Trintech believes its commitment to interoperability, combined with its open-standards platform and general agility, provides a competitive edge against some larger and better-known companies, said Trevor Healy, vice president of strategic alliances.

Trintech has 150 employees, including about 30 in three U.S. offices-a sales and marketing hub in San Jose, Calif., a research and development center in Princeton, N.J., and the Latin America headquarters in Miami.

"SET is a standard-up to a point," Mr. Healy said. "Various people will interpret it differently. We knew from EMV (the Eurocard-MasterCard-Visa smart card standard) and other European experiences that SET would not be transparently interoperable."

The "energy, resources, and financial commitment" by Trintech was especially critical because of its specialty in merchant software, said Mr. Healy, who is based at the Trintech Inc. subsidiary in San Jose. He views electronic commerce as a "consolidating market" with relatively few opportunities to sell the kinds of gateway software that IBM placed at Visa.

"The lion's share of the volume will be in merchant software that is interoperable with as many vendors as possible," Mr. Healy said.

He said Trintech welcomed the recent initiative by IBM and Verifone, a Hewlett-Packard Co. subsidiary, to make their competing SET software lines compatible.

"That means another two vendors out there are committed to interoperability," Mr. Healy said. "They took our position. The result will be a published standard that will help sell more software to the merchant marketplace."

Trintech prides itself on being able to work with a wide range of allies. Mr. Healy said PayWare is the first such product certified for SAP R/3 enterprise software, which could open many electronic commerce doors in the corporate world.

"We keep very good relations with both Netscape and Microsoft, which comes back to the openness of our commerce solution," he said. "Microsoft is very happy with our payment software. They don't move into our space and we don't move into theirs. We are a payment boutique.

"Our challenge is to build that payment boutique into a payment franchise."

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