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Smart cards finally come of age

December 15, 1998
Web posted at: 2:45 PM EST

by Ephraim Schwartz


(IDG) -- Smart card technology, which has been long on promise and short on product, will raise its profile significantly in 1999 as a number of major companies integrate smart card solutions into their products.

Currently under development are smart card solutions for the Palm Organizer and Windows CE devices, as well as smart card components for SAP's R/3 modules.

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One of the key developers pushing the effort forward is Open Domain, a well-connected start-up. The company's executives chiefly are defectors from Siemens, a major player in smart card technology.

Among its many smart card projects, Open Domain is working with Germany-based enterprise resource planning vendor SAP to roll out a suite of employee self-service applications, which will allow users to access their human resources information using a Web browser and a smart card for authentication. For example, employees could update health plans or change W4 tax information.

Eventually, software designed by Open Domain will enable users to access that same information remotely in a format that can be read on a Palm VII, said Uli Dreifuerst, president of Open Domain. 3Com already has plans to build a smart card reader into future versions of its Palm device, according to a source familiar with the project.

And when Windows CE 3.0 ships in June, it will have the capability to read smart cards, according to Mike Dusche, product manager for smart cards at Microsoft. Both Compaq and NEC will have WinCE devices with smart card slots built in at that time, he added.

Until now, the main function of smart cards has been authentication, but that may change.

"The basic value of a smart card is its ability to store personal information in a secure but portable device," said Andrew Bartels, a research analyst for electronic commerce at the Giga Information Group, in Norwalk, Conn. "But I could envision a situation where, as people put more and more information into their PalmPilots, they would want to have the smart card used as a device that locks or unlocks the PalmPilot."

Open Domain has another Palm project under way. The company is designing a software bridge between the 3Com PalmOS and the CardOS, a Siemens smart card operating system. With the software bridge in place, due late in 1999, Open Domain will offer developers a software development kit to create smart card-based applications to access database information.

As further proof the cards are gaining acceptance, Merrill Lynch will be issuing smart cards to its employees during the next six months for accessing personal benefits information.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Mateo, Calif.

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