Microsoft to unveil Smart Card OS

Just how small can Windows get? Small enough to fit on a card in your wallet if Microsoft has its way.

Tomorrow, Microsoft will announce a miniaturised version of its Windows operating system for use on smart cards, a company spokeswoman confirmed this afternoon. An announcement regarding a new operating system for smart cards will be made tomorrow at a conference called Cartes 98 in Paris, she said, but refused to give details of what would be discussed.

At the announcement, Microsoft is expected to detail plans for the operating system, which has been written especially to take advantage of the small form factor of smart cards -- credit-card size devices that have embedded processors that can store information and carry out small functions.

The involvement of Microsoft in the smart card realm brings the software giant's software down to the smallest common denominator yet. Already, Microsoft has announced plans to put out versions of Windows -- including Windows CE -- for small devices, such as smart phones, Internet-enabled wrist watches and set-top boxes. At a recent conference in Paris, the company's CEO, Bill Gates, said he envisions a world where Windows would run anywhere software could run.

However, Microsoft has its work cut out for it in the smart card market, where Sun Microsystems's Java technology has already made big inroads. Companies such as IBM are already testing smart card-based software systems for uses such as computer security based on both its own operating system and on the Java platform.

However, most smart card manufacturers will welcome the news that Microsoft has entered the arena, because the Microsoft name could lend credibility to the smart card concept. While smart cards are common in Europe and have been used for many years for telephone calls and other small transactions, they have yet to catch on in a big way in the US.

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