Bill Gates has made .Net the way into Microsoft - literally. Smart cards from Axalto have been commissioned as ID passes for all employees around the world, and the cards will be used to gain access to the buildings, as well as to get into software.

"The move towards smart cards is the way forward," said Gates in his keynote at IT Forum, in Copenhagen this morning. "The idea is to have a smart card that connects up in the best way - a .Net based smart card."

Microsoft partner Axalto "has done a super job on this", said Gates. "We will be using their smartcards internally - each employee will use those to get in and out of the buildings as we used to connect to our machines. We're requring them. We will completely replace passwords."

By having .Net capability, said Gates, "we think this brings different logic down to the card itself, giving a richness and continuity to the platform that only exists in that .Net environment." Axalto said this was the first commercial deployment of Axalto’s .Net-based smart cards.

The Cryptoflex .Net powered smart card "is a secure, ultra-miniature personal computing technology that runs a small footprint version of the .Net Framework", said Axalto. The .Net-based smart card provides customisable two-factor authentication as well as full cryptographic capabilities, seamlessly via the standard Microsoft .Net programming tools and interfaces. Microsoft marks the first enterprise deployment of the .Net-based smart card.

According to Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, these cards are based on the ECMA standards, and now form the core Microsoft .Net technologies

Axalto VP Marvin Tansley said: "The best approach to Network access security is to add a microprocessor card into the authentication process. Supporting Microsoft .Net is a natural extension of Axalto’s commitment to innovation around industry standards which enable secure access for many with varied identity management solutions."

The timescale is due to be short: tens of thousands of Microsoft employees worldwide already carry a corporate access badge that secures Microsoft computer systems and facilities. The Axalto Cryptoflex .Net powered smart card to its employees will be universal for secure remote Network access in 2005.

According to Axalto's official announcement, Microsoft's selected .Net-based cards are smart IDs that support both physical and logical access on one smart card. A contactless (RFID) feature embedded in the card provides the physical access to buildings and offices.

"The logical access control is provided via a microprocessor contact smart card with specialized security features, large memory for application storage, and implements Microsoft .Net," said the company.

The implementation includes a MSIL (Microsoft Intermediate Language) interpreter, application programming interfaces (system libraries needed for execution and smart card specific libraries for communication and security), and a converter that turns a CLI (common language infrastructure) compliant binary into a binary file for loading onto the smart card.

A set of relevant ECMA specifications and a comprehensive test suite that verifies compliance with the specs completes the package.