Lost in the Comdex rush was a small, but very important, announcement. On November 15, Microsoft released the Windows Smart Card Toolkit. This toolkit lets developers create Windows-based OS installation systems using smart cards and applications that interact with smart cards. The toolkit is programmable in Visual Basic (VB). Smart cards are a packaging method for memory. The current generation of smart cards has 32KB of flash memory and 32KB of user storage memory. Smart cards can carry security certificates, address books, and even medical data. The Windows Smart Card Toolkit is Microsoft’s way of pushing Windows into the smart card marketplace. At its Comdex Smart Card booth, Microsoft demonstrated a quick-and-dirty application: a mock-up airport kiosk, into which you plug your smart card and enter your password and the kiosk instantly displays your flight data. Microsoft representatives said that the company created the whole application—both the piece on the smart card and the piece on the kiosk—in a matter of hours using the toolkit. Microsoft representatives claimed that before the creation of this toolkit, all tools for smart card-related software development were proprietary. Developers had to learn an entirely new toolkit for each new project. However, because the Windows Smart Card Toolkit is VB-accessible, VB programmers can just pick it up and go. According to Microsoft, the toolkit also “gives the card issuer the control of a FAT file system with access control rules, an on-card Win32 API, a language-neutral virtual machine, and popular cryptos.” According to Microsoft, applications developed using the toolkit will work best on Windows 2000 (Win2K) systems. Given the wide variety of OSs likely to operate in the security marketplace, this focus might limit the toolkit’s usefulness, but the Windows Smart Card Toolkit is very useful for Windows developers. Sources tell me that Microsoft has been looking at the smart card for a while. In 1996, we saw the release of the PC/smart card (PC/SC) standard that let smart cards talk to Windows PCs. The Windows Smart Card Toolkit is the first entry of the Windows for Smart Cards family, a distinct, new Windows OS that comes in the toolkit. The folks at Microsoft who deal with Windows for Smart Cards are part of the Windows CE team. The toolkit costs $199. For more information, see the Microsoft Smart Card site.