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Wal-Mart, Microsoft go shopping

Wal-Mart Stores and Microsoft are teaming up to provide consumer goods via the Internet. Wal-Mart will next month begin testing its service based on new Microsoft software.

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores and Microsoft are teaming up to provide consumer goods via the Internet in a new online shopping service that will enter beta testing next month.

Microsoft's Merchant Server software for the company's Windows NT operating system and the Internet Information Server released yesterday will help retailers process orders via the net. The separate Merchant Workbench will help retailers create inventory database, 3D electronic catalogues, process secure transactions, and track customer records. A third piece, to be distributed free to consumers, will let them access Web sites based on Merchant Server and keep receipts for purchases made from the sites.

Wall-Mart's service will be used to sell roughly 200,000 products, most of which will not be stocked on Wal-Mart shelves. Consumers can use credit cards to order Wall-Mart products via the Net and have them shipped to their homes.

Trials are scheduled to continue until the end of the year but if the system is successful, the company intends to greatly expand its online activities, according to David Glass, Wal-Mart CEO. Wal-Mart generates about $90 billion in annual sales and Glass added that he anticipates the online venture will eventually produce a significant portion of the company's revenue.

The Microsoft Merchant Server is scheduled to be ready for general release by the end of the year and although the company hasn't named any other partners, officials said that Microsoft will license the software available to other retailers. The company will make pricing public later in the year.

Financial terms of the Microsoft/Wal-Mart partnership were not disclosed, but Microsoft said it will receive income only from the sale of its software, not from any goods sold using its software.

Analysts said the decision of the nation's largest retailer to jump on the net spelled a hopeful message for online commerce, a market whose growth has been recently stalled by widespread concerns about security.