Microsoft Corp has forged an alliance of OEM customers, Independent Software Vendors and major retail store chains that is supposed to come up with a set of standards to guarantee that heterogeneous hardware and software used by retailers will work together – using ActiveX as the glue. The companies involved in what Microsoft is calling an architecture initiative for the retail industry are hopefully going to write a specification in just under a year that defines a set of application programming interfaces that make it easier for retailers to integrate everything from their point-of-sale terminals to back-office inventory and accounting systems. The retail industry is nearly devoid of such standards, most often relying on turnkey packages that leave stores dependent on a single systems integrator or hardware vendor. Microsoft says the specifications its group is going to work on will encompass non-Windows machines, particularly Unix. Microsoft sources last week even whispered the magic words standards body as the interfaces’ final destination. The tentative schedule for the development of the retail application programming interfaces calls for a developers’ conference in April in Seattle, followed by a meeting of the whole group at the Retail Systems ’97 trade show in Chicago in May when version 0.5 of the specification will be unveiled. Hopes are to finish the project by December. Microsoft lists dozens of supporters including major hardware vendors and many retail software vendors. Retailers pledging support range from the Burger King chain to Dayton Hudson Corp and Shell Oil.