REDMOND, Wash., May 12, 1999 — Smart cards, widely used in Europe but failing so far to get a foothold in the U.S., are seeing renewed interest from a variety of corporations and government agencies, due in large part to early customer reaction to Smart Card for Windows from Microsoft. Smart Card for Windows, announced last October, is being previewed to card industry executives, manufacturers and software developers at the CardTech/SecurTech conference this week in Chicago. A beta version of the platform software and tools is expected to ship within 60 days.
Pilot customers as diverse as Merrill Lynch, the Veteran’s Administration and ARCO are experimenting with Smart Card for Windows for secure log-on to computers, medical records and identification, and customer loyalty programs at the gas pump. These and other pilot programs were detailed in a CTST keynote address by Philippe Goetschel, director of Smart Card for Windows. Technology partners who add systems integration and software development skills to the platform, such as Litronics and EDS, and major card manufacturers such as Gemplus and Schlumberger, were also included in the keynote.
Smart cards–which look like a standard credit card but are “smart” by virtue of having an embedded microprocessor that contains information that a PC, kiosk, computer terminal or even “contactless” system can “read” and verify–are expected to reach 1 billion units worldwide this year. Several well-publicized trials of early smart-card technology failed to catch on with consumers in the U.S., even as their use continues to grow in Europe for a variety of identification, medical and banking applications. However, many corporate IT managers, government agencies, and travel and entertainment firms are seeking ways to deploy low-cost, secure smart cards as an alternative to entering a series of passwords or even using single-application “mag stripe” cards.
Smart Cards for Windows has been designed as an extension of desktop Windows, using the same development tools that are used by millions of Windows software developers worldwide. This enables a broader range of developers to take advantage of the corporate interest in using smart cards for IT applications. This also extends the Windows security model into smart cards, allowing card manufacturers and customers to choose the appropriate level of security for their target application. Microsoft’s work on the PC Smart Card (PC/SC) standard with a variety of PC manufacturers, such as Hewlett Packard and IBM as well as peripheral manufacturers, also ensures that the various hardware needed to deploy smart-card systems, such as card readers, are interoperable.
Goetschel said that broader worldwide deployment of Smart Card for Windows will occur in the coming months, driven by the availability of beta code for the platform. Projects in Europe, the Far East and other regions will come on line by summer, he said.