Bill Gates presents a new software security program

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Tuesday presented a new software security program that will simplify online transactions and make them safer.

Called InfoCard, the project creates a program akin to a virtual wallet on the PC, designed to let people securely store and distribute various forms of online identification, represented on-screen as cards.

InfoCards will be part of Microsoft's updated browser software, Internet Explorer 7, which has been released in a limited preview version, and also the company's upcoming operating system software, Vista, due out toward the end of the year.

The company says users would log in to a site by clicking on one of the cards, reducing the need to type in a user name and password. The InfoCard program would securely retrieve the necessary digital credentials from an identity provider, then forward them to the site to authenticate the user's identity.

Using InfoCards, users can save personal information on virtual cards on their computers. Each card will contain varying levels of information, and the person could decide which card is best to use for each Web transaction, reports Xinhua.

According to Seattle Post Intelligencer., Gates also acknowledged some areas in which Microsoft is falling short, saying that the company needs to work on making its programs simpler to use.

"If there is an area that we absolutely need to do dramatically better, this would be it," Gates said.

"The number of screens that you have to get involved in, the number of places you have to go to find out what went on are still too high."

Although Gates didn't say so specifically, his speech seemed in part to be an unspoken effort to give Windows a leg up on the competing open-source Linux operating system, said industry analyst John Pescatore, vice president of Internet security at research firm Gartner Inc.

It was almost as if Gates was saying, "OK, Linux, whaddya got?" Pescatore said.

If that's the case, Microsoft isn't the only operating system developer seeking to differentiate itself on the basis of security. For example, Sun on Tuesday outlined additional security enhancements to its Solaris 10 operating system, which McNealy described during his speech as "the most secure OS on the planet."

O.Ch.