Mondex USA is climbing on a Microsoft-standard bandwagon to speed and simplify the spread of its electronic cash technology.

In an announcement at this week's Cardtech/Securtech conference, the smart card and virtual payments organization said it is developing a set of software tools called ReadiMondex.

They would be delivered in the form of Active-X components, a highly flexible Microsoft-backed programming approach designed to eliminate many of the steps and costs involved in meeting Mondex's extensive technical specifications.

"This takes us to the next level," said Janet Crane, president and chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Mondex USA. "In one step, companies can upload all of their value and different loyalty programs," she said, referring to the system's ability to manage multiple applications within cards' computer chips.

Ms. Crane said ReadiMondex addresses the cost concerns of "multi-lane" retailers like supermarkets and fast-food restaurants that must install card readers at multiple checkout locations.

Retailers are to be the first constituency with access to the package, with full availability scheduled for early next year pending trial runs. Versions for card issuers, merchant-acquirers, and other processors would come later.

A software developers kit is to be in the hands of companies accepted into an early adopters program by summer, said the U.S. franchise of Mondex International, a MasterCard International subsidiary. A wide range of beta test participants, developing systems for retailers and financial institutions, will strengthen the final product, Ms. Crane said at a press conference.

The reliance on a technical "roadbed" already laid by Microsoft assures Mondex of compatibility with computer systems already in the field. In normal circumstances, this choice might be seen as perfunctory. But the competing Visa organization has thrown its smart card lot in with a standard based on the Java programming language, owned by Microsoft archrival Sun Microsystems Inc.

Active-X components, rough equivalents to the Java applets that can be transmitted via the Internet, are standard building blocks for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems. ReadiMondex will be built for Win32 platforms-Windows on 32-bit processors-and is thus compatible with several programming languages, Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser software, and the smart card readers for personal computers that Microsoft announced earlier this week that it would put through a certification program.

Through PC-attached readers, which Mondex has long been demonstrating, electronic cash can be deducted from, or added to, a card's chip via the Internet. That is a key aspect of the bridge between physical and on-line commerce that is one of the brand's distinguishing features.

Mondex officials did not discuss the Windows-Java contrast, focusing instead on what Ms. Crane called "a major breakthrough for deploying Mondex in the United States."

"All members of the Mondex value chain-retailers, card issuers, acquirers, and processors-will soon have the tools to get up and running within days, reducing their costs by orders of magnitude," she said.

ReadiMondex covers three functions: the Mondex payment, uploads and downloads of cash, and value management. The first two become greatly simplified for software developers, Mondex said. The last, governing the back-office chips that collect and store the electronic value, removes "significant implementation and cost hurdles."

Relying on a client/server structure-putting system "intelligence" on back-office computers instead of front-line terminals-a retailer need only install a "dumb" smart card reader at the point of sale.

It is so cheap that "all kinds of merchants who deal in 10-cent or 25- cent transactions can suddenly be in the (smart card) business," Ms. Crane said.

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