Microsoft Corp, Intuit Inc and CheckFree Corp, admitting that their incompatible competing protocols to link personal computers, banks and brokerage houses have resulted in market confusion and a reluctance among financial institutions to buy anything at all, have agreed to create a joint specification that now looks like it will become the de facto industry standard. The trio acknowledged that their largest and best customers, who already offer online banking, have become increasingly upset at the cost and technical difficulty of supporting three or more incompatible sets of protocols, hears ClieNT Server News. Smaller online banks have tended to support just one, and are equally angry that that means their potential customer base has been restricted. Other financial houses have stayed off-line rather than invest in a technology that might be a loser. Microsoft, Intuit and CheckFree have been busy extracting pledges of support for their planned OFX Open Financial Exchange specifications from banks, brokerages and electronic banking software and services companies. The IBM-led Integrion Financial Network, while not joining the group yet, said it’s going to support OFX, which Microsoft et al promise will be ready in time to use in software released in the fall. The Visa Interactive arm of Visa International Inc, Edify Corporation and Security First Technologies Inc similarly pledged to build OFX-compatible gateways to their financial networks, a sweep that guarantees OFX will be supported by nearly 100% of the online financial services industry. OFX will define how financial client software links to servers, via Internet or dial-up, at banks and brokerage houses for banking, bill payments and investment transactions. Work on OFX began barely a month ago but has moved incredibly quickly, said Microsoft desktop financial division vice president Lewis Levin. An initial OFX draft will be posted this week on the Microsoft, Intuit and CheckFree Web sites with a final draft due by mid-February. OFX will require rewrites of both the client and server software used for electronic banking, but all the companies in the group said they were planning upgrades this Autumn anyway. Microsoft will jettison its OFC – Open Financial Connectivity protocol in favor of OFX. It hoped to use OFC, together with tens of millions of free copies of Money, as a wedge to build NT Server business. Microsoft is also planning OFX-compliant ActiveX thin clients that will access bank accounts without needing programs like Money. Intuit will bury its Open Exchange specification and CheckFree will replace its electronic banking and payment protocols. Integrion will start with a bridge between OFX and its Gold Message Standard, used to link financial servers on private networks. In 1998 it will converge the OFX and Gold standards. Visa will put an OFX front-end on its bill payment system. Security First will add OFX to the list of message formats its Virtual Financial Manager Internet banking server supports. Edify will hook OFX to its Electronic Banking System. Microsoft, Intuit and CheckFree will all jointly own the OFX copyright, but they say that the licenses will be completely royalty-free.