Microsoft opens Windows to smart cards
November 19, 1999
November 19, 1999
by David Essex
(IDG) -- Microsoft is hoping to boost the use of smart cards by shipping a tool for developing the Windows software that resides on smart cards.
The Windows Smart Card Toolkit, which ships this week, will make it easier for more programmers to write smart card software by allowing them to use Microsoft's popular Visual Basic language, the company claims.
Windows-based smart cards are already being used in pilot projects, and Microsoft says it has more than 50 business partners who will ship products in coming weeks. Several demonstrated smart card applications at this week's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.
Smart cards contain microprocessors that encode encrypted information about their bearer's identity. The data can include personal information and electronic "cash." To use them, you typically must insert them in a smart card reader attached to a PC or some other device, such as an ATM or an electronic kiosk. The cards have become popular in Europe, though adoption has been slow in the United States.
Because traditional credit cards are a better-established payment mechanism here than in Europe, where they are expensive to process and more subject to fraud, U.S. smart cards are more likely to be used for security purposes, says Mike Dusche, a Microsoft product manager.
"The question is do we need a better payment option in the U.S., and the answer is probably no," Dusche says.
Custom and Corporate Use
For that reason, Microsoft is focusing its early efforts on selling smart cards to corporations, which can use the cards, for example, to control access to networks and sensitive information, as well as to the medical and travel/entertainment industries.
Dusche says two Microsoft customers, British Telecom and Merrill Lynch, have issued Windows smart cards to employees remotely accessing its corporate network. Another, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is running a pilot test that involves giving pregnant women cards containing medical information that may be needed during labor and delivery at any of the department's hospitals.
Microsoft competes primarily with Multos and Sun (which has a smart card version of its popular Web language, called JavaCard) in providing the operating system for smart cards. Dusche claims that at $199, the Windows smart-card license is far cheaper than those of Multos and JavaCard, and says Windows programming tools are already used by many more developers.
And Microsoft's market clout may help make the Windows for Smart Cards operating system successful, says Andrew Bartels, an analyst with Giga Information Group.
"Microsoft's smart card system is a big deal," Bartels says. "Microsoft can help create a standard that both users and vendors can rely upon."
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