are jointly claiming a first in digital wallet availability.

IBM said Tuesday that version 2.1 of its Consumer Wallet software is on the market. It is compatible with the Electronic Commerce Markup Language, or ECML, which MasterCard, Visa, American Express, IBM, and several other technology companies have rallied around in hopes of smoothing consumer payment procedures on the Internet.

MasterCard has allied itself with IBM's wallet initiative, making special arrangements to distribute the ECML version through its member financial institutions to customers, potentially in mass quantities.

Though several vendors are selling ECML wallets, IBM and MasterCard are first in making one "so widely available to both merchants and consumers," said Ed Kilroy, general manager, e-commerce for IBM Software Solutions.

The license agreement lets a MasterCard bank issue an unlimited number of the virtual wallets for a one-time fee, said Arthur Kranzley, the card association's senior vice president of electronic commerce and emerging technology.

The companies hope to get as many wallets as possible into consumers' personal computers in time for the Christmas shopping season, and in the process put the MasterCard brand and its banks in an advantageous position.

"There are a number of third-party wallets out there to download," said Mr. Kranzley, referring to the growing number of payment screens associated with Internet portals and mall sites. "But they don't work for banks' building relationships with their customers." IBM's wallet permits customized branding by the issuing institution, advertising on the screen, and links to related services such as electronic bill payments and credit card customer service.

The MasterCard announcement coincided with the American Bankers Association FuturePayments conference in Chicago. It came three months to the day since ECML was unveiled.

Competitors' accord on that standard appears to be having the desired effect, stimulating system development and competition in areas other than common payment functions. ECML specifies, for example, the personal and account information required on the wallet screen. Assuming that a merchant site is prepared -- and several prominent electronic commerce companies have committed to it -- the consumer's pre-registered information is automatically written into an order form in a "one-click" operation.

The software must accommodate SET, the MasterCard- and Visa-sponsored Secure Electronic Transaction protocol, and SSL, the Secure Sockets Layer protocol that is currently more widely used.

One of IBM's wallet capabilities, ProBuyer, assesses the highest level of security offered by a given merchant and automatically triggers the appropriate protocol. It also simplifies ordering from non-ECML merchants. That was attractive to MasterCard because "we want wallets to work universally, not just with third parties that have limited merchant groups," Mr. Kranzley said.

Mr. Kranzley said the IBM wallet can be in MasterCard cardholders' PCs within weeks. Other wallet vendors in the ECML consortium -- Cybercash, Brodia, and Trintech -- are similarly close to general availability.

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