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Online shopping will get easier

A key specification for handling electronic payments over the Internet has been completed, CommerceNet and the World Wide Web Consortium announced today.

A key specification for handling electronic payments over the Internet has been completed, CommerceNet and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced today.

In addition, several run-time scenarios for the Joint Electronic Payments Initiative, or JEPI, are now available. JEPI is designed as a universal payment platform to let buyers and sellers conduct transactions over the Net using many different forms of payment. Its completion is seen as accelerating Internet commerce and making it easier.

"One of the major ingredients needed for Web commerce is the ability for different payment instruments and protocols to exchange information," Tim Berners-Lee, director of W3C, said in a statement. "We are enthusiastic about JEPI because it effectively addresses this need."

With completion of its first phase of development, JEPI is today a prototype that needs to be turned into products. Daniel Dardailler, JEPI project manager for W3C, expects the companies that participated in phase one to be the first companies to develop a product.

Participating on JEPI to date included Microsoft, IBM, Open Market, GC Tech, CyberCash, Xerox, British Telecommunications, and Digital Equipment.

Both W3C's Dardailler and CommerceNet's manager of security and payments, James Galvin, downplayed Netscape Communications' absence from the list of initial participants, saying Netscape is likely to be involved in JEPI's next phase. Galvin noted that the participants to date essentially donated the time of one full-time software engineer to the JEPI project.

The two consortia expect to announce JEPI's second phase by the end of 1996. It will likely include adding more forms of payment (the first phase has dealt primarily with credit card transactions), including electronic cash, micropayments, electronic checks, and possibly smart cards or hardware tokens. The second phase also may include creating application programming interfaces (APIs).

Galvin characterized CommerceNet's second phase "beginning to build the infrastructure" to implement JEPI and reaching out to Web software companies like Netscape and the banks and financial institutions that will become parts of the payments infrastructure.

Galvin expects a working demo of JEPI to be completed by year's end.