Countrywide Funding Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, has selected Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating system to standardize operations at its data processing centers and branch offices.

The multimillion-dollar project will take the next nine months and will involve more than 300 offices, according to officials at the Pasadena, Calif.-based mortgage bank.

The company is converting its offices from the International Business Machines Corp.'s OS/2 operating system.

Jeremy V. Gross, executive vice president and chief technology officer at the lending unit of Countrywide Credit Industries, called the choice of Windows NT a "straightforward decision."

Windows is already used at the company's data processing sites, he explained, and Windows emulations are running in an OS/2 environment at the offices.

"It's not a question of one (operating system) being better than the other," he said. "From a support, administration, and cost standpoint, it makes sense to be on one platform."

Mr. Gross added that OS/2 does not have as great a variety of applications as Windows NT. "Market momentum is in Windows," he said.

Indeed, some of the largest branch automation software vendors, such as Olivetti North America Inc. and Culverin Corp., are developing applications specifically for Windows NT. Others, including Argo Data Resource Corp. and Broadway & Seymour Inc., have hedged their bets by creating applications for both operating systems.

As financial institutions increasingly adopt client/server computing for their branches, competition is heating up among Microsoft, IBM, and a third contender, Novell Inc., which licenses the Unix operating system to vendors.

Like Countrywide, a number of other leading U.S. financial services firms are moving to Windows NT, including Bank South Corp., Centura Banks Inc., National Westminster Bancorp., and Norwest Corp.

The new Windows NT environment will enable Countrywide to improve its efficiency, Mr. Gross said. "The margin for loan originations is thin, so a company has to have an efficient back-office operation," he said.

Running both OS/2 and Windows is gobbling up a great deal of hardware and software resources, Mr. Gross said. Moving to a single operating system will free up those resources and allow Countrywide to focus support staff on one platform, he said.

"Having advanced technology will also give us a competitive advantage in customer service," he added.

While he would not divulge specifics, he said the company is aggressively pursuing Internet and multimedia platforms for service offerings.

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