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SAN MATEO (06/28/2000) - Microsoft Corp. will release an update to Windows for Smart Cards later this week that will include support for the GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) standard, according to a company official.

At its Smart Card Forum, which begins Thursday, Microsoft officials will outline plans to spur Windows-based development in the smart-card arena.

President and CEO Steve Ballmer will kick off the conference for press, partners, and developers on the company's Redmond, Washington, campus with the announcement that Windows for Smart Cards 1.1 is available.

"This version supports GSM wireless technologies," said Mike Dusche, product manager for Windows for Smart Cards. "This is all part of the .Net strategy -- wireless as a platform."

While GSM is popular in Europe and Asia, the most popular wireless networking standard in the United States is CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Motorola and Nokia are collaborating on another wireless standard, called 1Xtreme, which is geared toward handling high-speed transmission of Internet data.

Microsoft released Windows for Smart Cards seven months ago and, according to Dusche, has sold 20 million units since. Nevertheless, smart cards have not taken off in the United States, particularly compared to Europe and Asia.

Dusche said a major reason is that the technology is really just becoming useful.

"Cards, until very recently, did not have the ability to be programmed," Dusche said. "They have to be very small, 5mm by 5mm for the chip, and that chip didn't allow for writing programs. Moore's Law has been very kind to smart cards lately."

As proof, Dusche pointed to the smart cards issued to Microsoft employees for network and security access. They sport a 64KB memory and an 8-bit microprocessor -- roughly the same as the first generation of PCs, Dusche said.

In January, Microsoft employees also will be issued healthcare smart cards, he added.

Windows for Smart Cards enjoys a strategic place in Microsoft's .Net platform, which aims to fulfill a "software as a service" vision: namely, Windows-based cards powering mobile phones -- not considered a good fit for Windows CE -- and Pocket PCs that are connected to Exchange servers.

"We want to connect these [smart card] clients to servers, both Windows NT and Exchange, and that will also connect them to services," Dusche said.

Windows for Smart Cards 1.1 will be available for download on Microsoft's Web site on Thursday, Dusche said. The company's Smart Card Forum is scheduled to run through Friday.

Bob Trott is an InfoWorld associate news editor based in Seattle.

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