FYI: Java Smart Cards

Rainer Joswig
Tue, 27 May 1997 12:28:27 +0200

Java Smart Cards Coming? (05/25/97; 9:45 a.m. EDT)
 By Terry Costlow, Electronic Engineering Times

 ORLANDO, Fla. -- A new blend of Java promises the ability to use a single
smart card for multiple applications--such as electronic cash, credit,
debit and buying-profile data. Smart-card developers are being attracted in
droves to this Java dialect, which has been stripped down to permit
execution of applets in the tiny hardware environment of a smart card. 

 Java also holds out the promise of hardware-independence--such that a
single version of a Java applet would run on any Java smart card--and of
robust security, permitting a vendor to insert new applets into the card
but minimizing the risk that criminals could somehow break into the card's

 But a direct challenge is brewing. Multos, a new smart-card software
environment, has garnered support from industry heavyweights as impressive
as Java's. 

 The Java dialect, called JavaCard, was developed by the JavaSoft group at
Sun Microsystems Inc. specifically for smart cards. It permits small
numbers of applets to be executed on tiny microcontrollers with only a few
kbytes of ROM and less than 1 kbyte of RAM. 

 That capability has caused a surge of interest among the commercial giants
that are preparing to deploy smart cards in the U.S. market. Leading the
list at the Cardtech/Securetech conference last week was Visa
International, which manages the vast Visa credit-card network. 

 "A couple of months ago, we came out with a partner program, and the key
to it is an open strategy," said Gaylon Howe, senior vice president at Visa
International (San Francisco). "We endorsed JavaCard and the Java API.
We're very committed to it--it provides good security and adaptability. It
also gets us into a development environment with hundreds of thousands of
programmers. People can buy a Java development workbench anywhere." 

 Visa's move has prompted many technical companies to race to implement
Java in new offerings. Startup Integrity Arts (San Mateo, Calif.) launched
a virtual machine that runs object-oriented Java applications, taking only
256 bytes of RAM to run multiple programs. Integrity's software includes
tools for developing and testing applications packages. 

 Schlumberger Smart Cards and Systems (Chesapeake, Va.) debuted the
Cyberflex developers' kit and announced plans to develop a Java-based Open
Technology Platform that will make it simpler to create multi-application
cards. Another leading card maker, Gemplus Corp. (San Mateo, Calif.), plans
to shift to Java later this year. Other card makers are preparing to
develop multi-application cards using Java, and even companies that make
single-application cards for their own hardware are turning to Java. 

 "We'll have a Java terminal for private residences in the fourth quarter,
with a pay phone coming some time later," said Mike Prentice, consumer
product marketing manager at Nortel's Enterprise Networks Group (Research
Triangle Park, N.C.). 

 But Java won't have the market to itself. Earlier this month, eight firms
announced their support for Multos, an open operating system and language
that was developed specifically for smart cards. The group, led by
financial giant Mondex International, includes MasterCard International,
Motorola, Siemens, Hitachi, Gemplus, Keycorp and Dai Nippon Printing. 

 "Anyone can write an application to Multos," said Mike Goodenough, a
spokesman for Maosco (London), the consortium that will handle licensing
for Multos. "It's being tested now, and the first implementation will be in
the first quarter of 1998. The first user will be MasterCard." 

 Just how pitched the battle between the two operating systems will be
remains uncertain. Cards using Multos and Java won't be compatible, but if
interfaces are strictly defined, programs written in each environment could
be used in the same application. Observers are split on whether having two
major environments will be a negative for the industry.

 "I think the market can tolerate more than one operating system; there
isn't quite the need for absolute code uniformity," said Jonathan Cassell,
smart-card analyst at Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.). 

 However, others believe coexistence of the OSes will create problems such
as adding expense for banks and others who have to write cards for each

 "If a bank issues both Visa and MasterCard, as most do, [it is] not going
to want to have two back-end systems for different operating systems," said
Robin Townshend, senior vice president of strategy at Intellect Electronics
Inc. (San Jose), which makes card readers. "The answer is to find a bridge
that is politically acceptable to both sides." 

 Until Multos emerges, Java will have the market to itself, and programmers
will be pushing JavaCard forward. Sun is already hustling to supersede the
original JavaCard 1.0 release with version 2.0. And applications developers
are exploring to see exactly what will be the functionality of a
workstation-derived, object-oriented language in the microscopic world of
the smart card.

Copyright (c) CMP Media, 1996.