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Users may soon carry Personal Effects

Microsoft has proposed a standard that would let users carry their passwords, account numbers, and other information with them when they change computers.

A new standard that Microsoft has proposed to the World Wide Web Consortium may soon let users carry their passwords, account numbers, and other private information with them when they change Web browsers or even computers.

Called the Personal Effects Exchange, the specification is designed to simplify the use of digital certificates, a kind of electronic passport that allows users to automatically verify their identities over the Internet and securely store data such as passwords and credit card numbers in their Web browsers. Although digital certificates aren't widely used by browsers today, Netscape Communications' Navigator 3.0 will support digital certificates. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 will not support digital certificates, but the company is planning to add that feature, likely before the release of version 4.0, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

But Microsoft appears concerned that certificates will force users to stick with a single browser because it will be too hard to exchange themif they switch browsers or log on to a different kind of machine. That difficulty could keep Navigator users--which currently compose about 84 percent of the browser market, according to market research firm Dataquest--from easily migrating to Internet Explorer.

Personal Effects Exchange will alleviate that difficulty by allowing users of both Navigator and Explorer--whether on Macintosh, Windows 95, or Unix--to transport their digital certificates between multiple Net applications and platforms, Microsoft said.

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