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PC, smart card standard nears

Top vendors of PCs and smart cards cooperate to develop a specification for their interaction.

A group representing top makers of personal computers and smart cards expects to issue a specification by year's end to define how the two devices will interact.

The PC/SC Workgroup originally convened in September, led by Microsoft and four other members; it has broadened its membership to add other technology players in smart cards, electronic commerce, and network computers.

"We have achieved an impressive union of smart card, PC, and NC leaders, all pulling in the same direction on standards," Mehrzad Mahdavi, a Schlumberger Electronic Transactions executive chairing the PC/SC Workgroup, said in a statement.

Smart cards are plastic plates the size of credit cards with a computer chip embedded. They are touted as a way to boost both e-commerce and security on computer networks such as the Internet. Smart cards are not widely used in the United States but are more popular in Europe, where they are often used for electronic cash.

The new members are Gemplus, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Toshiba, and VeriFone.

In addition to Microsoft and Schlumberger, the charter members are Bull, Hewlett-Packard, and Siemens-Nixdorf.

The draft specifications are undergoing an open review and comment process, and the first release is expected this year. The PC/SC Workgroup intends to transfer the protocols to an appropriate standardization body once the first release is complete.

The PC/SC Workgroup also is working with the OpenCard Framework, a parallel 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.

PC/SC Workgroup members are already developing products to comply with the new specification. Bull expects to have smart card readers plus e-commerce and security applications available by September. Schlumberger has introduced the first cryptographic smart card, called Cryptoflex, as well as card readers.

Later this year, Microsoft plans to release an implementation of the PC/SC specifications for Windows and Windows NT after beta testing now under way is completed. Software development kits are already available.

IBM is developing applications and support for its multifunction card (MFC) and will work to harmonize the efforts of the PC/SC Workgroup and OpenCard Framework group. VeriFone plans to introduce a PC application and a smart card reader as a computer peripheral.

HP plans to ship some PCs in its Vectra line with a smart card reader in the keyboard, beginning in the third quarter. Siemens-Nixdorf plans PC cards and smart card readers in desktop and tower personal computers.