First Virtual Holdings Inc. said its payment partnership with Microsoft Corp. has advanced to the beta-test stage.

First Virtual announced its cooperation with Microsoft in January to make the First Virtual Internet Payment System compatible with Microsoft's Merchant Server.

The move into beta means the Internet Payment System is ready for live market testing. First Virtual classified the software version as 0.98B, just short of the 1.0 that signifies a full-scale release.

The San Diego-based electronic commerce company, which clears payments off of the Internet for security reasons, is inviting Microsoft Merchant Server customers to sign up to participate at the beta stage.

"Our unique technology addresses the issue of protecting personal information on the Internet," said First Virtual technical adviser Marshall Rose. The system "stores financial information off-line and provides E-mail confirmation of orders to minimize chargebacks and fraud."

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