Ballmer details smart card role in .Net plan

Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer and president Steve Ballmer Thursday

said smart cards will play an important role in Microsoft's .Net initiative,

providing a secure way to access networks and the Internet.

"As we move to a Web-based lifestyle, authentication and security become

critical," Ballmer said, addressing a partisan crowd at the second annual

Smart Card Business Development Conference, which takes place this week

at a Microsoft conference center in Bellevue, Washington.

"Smart cards are an enabling technology in the Microsoft .Net vision, providing

an affordable and effective way to increase the security of computing. We

believe the demand for smart cards is just emerging and will grow exponentially,"

Ballmer said in prepared remarks that were released by Microsoft.

Microsoft .Net is a wide-ranging initiative unveiled last week to provide

development tools, applications and services that will allow companies to

offer new types of services over the Web. Many IT observers see the effort

as an attempt by Microsoft to retain its dominance in the industry, as the

focus of computing moves away from PCs and toward the Internet and other

types of devices.

Smart cards look like credit cards, but they contain a computer chip and

can store information about users. More commonly seen in Europe than in

the U.S., they can be used to provide secure access to computers, computer

networks or buildings.

On Thursday, Microsoft announced that Windows for Smart Card Toolkit 1.1,

with support for the global systems for mobile communications (GSM) telecommunications

standard, will be released to developers "soon." The toolkit will allow

GSM operators and phone makers to create smart card applications, including

commerce applications for their mobile phones.

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s chairman and CEO, Scott McNealy, has been one of

the strongest advocates of smart cards, and Microsoft's Windows technology

is competing with Sun's Java programming language for the attention of smart

card makers.

The General Services Administration, a U.S. government agency that provides

support services to the federal government, recently made the largest commitment

to smart card technology in the U.S. to date, Ballmer said. The GSA awarded

a contract to five high-tech firms that will be worth about $1.5 billion

during 10 years to provide smart cards for federal workers.

Also at the conference, health care firm Lifestream Technologies Inc. demonstrated

its Privalink system, which uses smart cards to transfer medical records

between doctors and patients or to upload health records on the Web. The

system includes a home cholesterol kit fitted with a smart card reader,

which is awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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