In a move that could boost widespread adoption of smart cards, Microsoft (MSFT)
today released a development kit to allow smart cards to
with Windows 95 and Windows NT.
The Smart Card Software Development Kit contains APIs (application
programming interfaces) and COM (Component Object Model) software to
any Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0, or NT 5.0 application able to use smart
The kit also works with Microsoft's upcoming Windows 98 operating
Microsoft is expected to make the developer kit also work for its Windows CE
platform for handheld devices, although the timing is unclear.
Smart cards are plastic, credit-card size devices that contain a
While commonly used in Europe, smart cards have yet to take hold in the
United States. Analysts expect that to change in the coming year, as
hardware makers incorporate smart card readers into their PCs and PC
hardware, such as keyboards. Also, financial institutions are adopting
smart cards for use in new services.
Although capable of storing a variety of data, they have primarily been
used in the United States in limited trials, mostly in the financial
The software system varies on cards and devices at the moment, although
many manufacturers are incorporating Java, a sort of computer lingua
franca, to promote interoperability.
Although Microsoft and Sun
Microsystems (SUNW) rejected suggestions that Microsoft's SDK competes with the
JavaCard initiative from Sun's JavaSoft
business unit, one industry executive views Microsoft's move as
"I would view this as competing with JavaCard, but Microsoft might say
complementary," said Catherine Allen, chief executive of a new industry
consortium called Banking Industry Technology Secretariat, a division of
the Bankers Roundtable. BITS, formed in April by the ten largest U.S.
is addressing banks' role in electronic commerce.
"There's a race on for who's going to dominate the operating system for
smart cards," Allen added. Hardware vendors of both smart cards and
are working with both Microsoft and JavaSoft, hedging their bets on the
outcome of a technology battle.
"This SDK will work with any operating system on the card," said
Microsoft's Karan Khanna, a product manager on Windows NT. "We work with
JavaCard perfectly fine, an application would work just fine."
JavaSoft's David Spenhoff likewise downplayed any potential showdown
Microsoft's new toolkit.
"It doesn't really relate to the JavaCard spec at all. It seems to be
Microsoft making sure Windows applications can read smart card data,"
JavaSoft director of product marketing said. "It's about what goes on
PC side. Java is what's running on the smart card."
Nor is Spenhoff worried that Microsoft might create its own operating
system for smart cards." I've heard nothing that indicates they're
in that space." A public draft of the JavaCard 2.0 specification is due
publication next month.
Allen rated Microsoft's announcement as a plus for the smart card
"It's an example from large players of how smart cards will be
into a number of applications," she said.
Microsoft's SDK grows out the PC/SC Workgroup, convened by Microsoft a
ago to define how smart cards will work with PCs. The original group
included smart card vendors Bull, Schlumberger, and Siemens, plus Hewlett-Packard.
In May, the group was broadened to include Sun, Gemplus, IBM, Toshiba, and VeriFone, now an HP unit.
Microsoft said the development kit will support smart cards at the
driver level for hardware and at the application level through
The kit can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site.
As part of the Smart Card software development kit announcement,
said it has signed up 11 hardware makers to support smart cards on
including IBM, HP, Gemplus, Schlumberger, and Litronic.
The PC/SC specification is posted at a Web site. The PC/SC Workgroup
intends to transfer the protocols to an appropriate standardization
but which one remains under discussion.
The PC/SC Workgroup also is working with the OpenCard Framework, a
group led by IBM to ensure compatibility of NCs and smart cards. Many NC
manufacturers expect to use smart cards to authenticate the identity of
users and enhance security.