Four companies that are No. 1 in their respective technology fields said Tuesday they have paired off in hopes of cooperatively promoting payments over the Internet.
The alliances - First Data Corp. with Netscape Communications Corp., and Oracle Corp. with Verifone Inc. - are the latest in an increasingly tangled web of such relationships among companies in and close to the banking industry.
Altering the payment-services landscape, these companies are swarming together to pursue common ends on the information superhighway. They have come to agree that no one organization can carry off new forms of electronic commerce on its own.
"When we looked at the solutions on the market, what we found lacking was more than packaging," said Karen White, senior vice president of Oracle, the data-base-software giant whose alliance with Verifone is to be announced officially today.
"We felt we needed an integrated solution," she said, and Verifone, the leader in point of sale transaction systems, emerged as "the best partner."
Similarly, for First Data, "Our business strategy includes a commitment to being a leader in this emerging market," said Steve Hoffman, vice president of electronic commerce at the electronic funds services division in Palo Alto, Calif. "To make that happen, we intend to have relationships with leading software companies."
In what Mr. Hoffman called "the first indication of the type of relationship we will have," the leading processor of MasterCard and Visa payments said Monday that it would extend its services to users of Netscape's commercial software.
Netscape, best known for its market-leading Internet browsing system for personal computers, also provides software for on-line publishers and merchants who, through the nonexclusive First Data connection, will be able to accept and securely authorize card payments.
Netscape president James Barksdale said he expects the alliance to "inspire a broad spectrum of businesses to create an on-line presence," selling "products ranging from airline tickets to office supplies."
Aspiring to be one of the focal points of commercial activity on the Internet's World Wide Web, the Mountain View, Calif., upstart finds itself in a heated battle with the biggest software maker of all, Microsoft Corp.
Microsoft and Netscape recently were on opposite sides of the credit card industry debate over a security protocol for payments over open networks like the Internet. Microsoft sided with Visa, while Netscape and International Business Machines Corp., among others, worked with MasterCard.
MasterCard and Visa said Feb. 1 that they had agreed on a single protocol - Secure Electronic Transactions, or SET. In that respect, even Microsoft and Netscape have coalesced. First Data's service to Netscape- using merchants will comply with SET.
Among other Netscape alliances are a resale arrangement for its I-Store software with Cardservice International, a merchant processor that has a separate comarketing agreement with First Data; and an agreement Netscape announced Jan. 22 with Verifone - the company newly involved with Oracle - to create "comprehensive Internet payment solutions."
Oracle and Verifone, headquartered across the road from each other in the San Francisco suburbs, said their tie-in by this fall will enable instant card authorizations on purchases of goods and services over the Internet.
Ms. White, who heads business development and strategic marketing at Oracle, described the joint product as "an end-to-end payment system, from consumers to merchants all the way back to the banking system, conducted in real time."
Roger B. Bertman, vice president and general manager of Verifone's Internet commerce division, said the companies aim to create an on-line version of what occurs routinely at conventional merchant locations.
He said the recent deal with Netscape was slightly less comprehensive.
"Where Netscape left off, we picked up," Ms. White said. "We felt it was important not to just package a solution down a particular channel, but actually to integrate technologies."
Bob Chlebowski, senior vice president of business development at Wells Fargo Bank, said the alliance "takes the next step in terms of creating a secure, open, interoperable standard for commerce."
Scott Smith, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York, said the Oracle-Verifone agreement is "not the be-all and end-all" for Internet payments, but a "significant first step."
"The pieces are starting to fall into place, the big players are starting to align," Mr. Smith said. "No one has the full solution. It takes a little bit of everybody."