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HP adds smart card keyboards

New PCs from Hewlett-Packard may help to boost the use of smart cards among U.S. corporations.

New PCs from Hewlett-Packard (HWP) may help to boost the use of smart cards among U.S. corporations.

The company said today that it will begin shipping business PCs in its Vectra line by October, with the first smart card keyboard based on specifications of the PC/Smart Card Workgroup.

The keyboard, manufactured by Key Tronics and running Personal ATM software from VeriFone, is targeted at business-oriented Internet commerce usage, said HP, which is in the process of acquiring VeriFone. The keyboard is being demonstrated this week at PC Expo.

Smart cards are a major element in VeriFone's efforts to move beyond its niche of providing countertop terminals for credit card transactions. HP was named as a partner in September when VeriFone unveiled its smart card initiative.

HP said in March that it will build smart card readers into PC keyboards for network security, not e-commerce transactions, as part of its Praesidium security framework.

"Smart cards aren't going to work in the United States unless merchants can accept payments both at point of sale and for e-commerce," said Tom Murphy, director of alternative payments for Global Concepts, a consulting firm.

Such readers are required to use the credit card-sized plastic plates, which have embedded computer chips. In the United States, strategies have focused on how to get smart card readers proliferated among both merchants and potential buyers.

Analyst Scott Smith of Jupiter Communications said, "I think one of the reasons for Hewlett-Packard's VeriFone acquisition was to allow them to expand into the payments area, and it's probably smart."

HP said its PCs with a smart card keyboard initially will be targeted at worldwide smart card pilots, working with Windows 95- and Windows NT-based PCs. The keyboards also incorporate new technology from HP for processing personal identification numbers to ensure that smart card PINs remain encrypted in the keyboard and never move onto the PC itself.

The special keyboards will be available for use with Vectra 500 Series small-business PCs and HP Vectra V-line commercial PC models.

The PC/SC Workgroup was formed in May 1996 by a group of PC and smart card companies to create a standard so that cards and boxes from different companies can work easily with each other. The original participants were Bull CP8, HP, Microsoft, Schlumberger Electronic Transactions and Siemens Nixdorf Information Systems.

In April, Gemplus, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Toshiba, and VeriFone joined the group.