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Microsoft's plans for ‘WinATMs’ Everywhere

William Harris' deposition describes a planned link with MasterCard in 1994

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In 1994 Microsoft was planning to bundle a form of 'personal ATM' with Windows 95, according to the testimony of Intuit executive William Harris, which was released yesterday. The WinATM project never flew, but according to Harris Microsoft had in that year been involved in a series of planning meetings with MasterCard and CheckFree. Harris says that Intuit didn't know of this project at the time in 1994 when Microsoft was planning to buy Intuit, but that Microsoft hinted at it. "Mike Maples of Microsoft had informed us that Microsoft had another deal very close to consummation with MasterCard that they would need to delicately unravel as a result of the agreement to acquire Intuit." Intuit found out about the WinATM project shortly after the acquisition plan was abandoned, when CheckFree CEO Pete Kight told Harris about it. WinATM was to be essentially a cut-down version of Microsoft Money with the added ability to connect to MasterCard's national ATM network for electronic data access and to CheckFree for bill payment. It would be bundled with Windows 95, and although it clearly wouldn't be possible to download electronic cash Mondex-style at this stage, the name of the project makes it pretty clear where Microsoft anticipated it going. At this stage of the planning it was also an obviously useful adjunct to the Microsoft Network, which in 1994 was being envisaged as Microsoft's own-brand version of the Internet with electronic billing included. Microsoft has on numerous occasions over the last few years insisted that it doesn't want to be a gatekeeper levying a toll for every single electronic transaction, but the WinATM project makes it clear how close it came. Harris says negotiations between Microsoft, MasterCard and Checkfree took place in Redmond, and names Nathan Myrvold and Steve Balmer as being involved - i.e., it was as one might expect a high-level project. In its 'prebuttal' yesterday (Microsoft attacks Intuit exec's testimony) Microsoft dismisses WinATM as a project that never got off the drawing board. It certainly didn't make it, but the high level negotiators plus the need to disengage carefully after an Intuit takeover suggests it was a little bit more than just a couple of Redmond boffins shooting the breeze. There will be plenty reasons why it didn't fly. Microsoft's proprietary attitude to the Net was severely modified over 1995, and the company also probably discovered that there were a hell of a lot more issues associated with connecting to financial networks than it had anticipated. And of course, smartcard technology wasn't there yet, so the logical progression of moving on to personal readers couldn't happen. But didn't Microsoft start making noises about smartcards a little earlier this year? ® Complete Register trial coverage

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