March 27, 1997 11:00 AM ET
OpenCard Framework will allow users to access any NC with any smart card
By Scott Berinato

  Leaders of the Network Computer initiative yesterday announced the OpenCard Framework to ensure smart cards will work with the scaled-down computing devices.

Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp. and IBM participated in the announcement, along with Netscape Communications Corp. NCs from Sun, Oracle and IBM will support the OpenCard Framework by the end of the year, according to officials at each company.

The standard will allow users to securely access and transmit data with any card on any vendor's Network Computing device, which will open up public-area applications for the appliances, such as in an airport or a hotel.

Support for the JavaCard API, as well as a more basic API for non-Java-based cards, is included in the architecture. The framework also will encompass the PKCS11 standard for cryptographic key transactions. (Netscape Communicator, due in the second quarter, will support PKCS11, according to Eric Greenberg of Netscape, in Mountain View, Calif.)

The framework does not yet address electronic commerce protocols such as the SET (Secure Electronic Transaction) standard. However, "We have a commitment to continue to work together," said Mary Ann Davidson of Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif. "I think you can anticipate that we will adopt standards already established in the E-commerce area."

Although smart cards are expected to play a central role with NCs, this was the first time the issue was officially addressed by NC backers.

"The roaming capability is absolutely necessary with NCs," said Donna Van Fleet, vice president of software strategy at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y. Smart cards will offer users the ability to access their personal data anywhere without having to carry it with them, Van Fleet said.

No card manufacturers participated today, though Schlumberger and GemPlus were noted as "interested parties involved with the OpenCard Framework."

Along with work being done by the Security Infrastructure Group, headed by Netscape, and the PC/SC Workgroup, led by Microsoft Corp., today's agreement should speed the development of both NCs and a solid smart card infrastructure.

The ultimate goal is a common standard that will allow a single user's card to operate virtually anywhere, much as a credit or debit card does today.

While that standard is a long way off, this announcement marks an important step, one analyst said.

"This will help both NCs and smart cards to fly," said Jonathan Cassell, an analyst at Dataquest Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "But an important point to think about is, for the foreseeable future NCs and PCs will be working together within an enterprise, so it's important they can both read the same card."

Although the OpenCard Framework does not address interoperability with PCs, there's nothing in it that will prevent the same card from running on a personal computer, officials said.

Further details will be posted today at

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