Gemplus of France and International Business Machines Corp. said they are joining forces to stimulate growth in the smart card market.
The potentially formidable duo-Gemplus is the No. 1 chip card producer, and IBM has taken its computer industry leadership into the realm of what it calls e-business-provided some counterpoint to the Microsoft Corp. initiative occupying center stage at a major card technology conference in Paris.
The Gemplus-IBM effort is centered on the Java Card specifications sponsored by Sun Microsystems Inc., which Microsoft is seeking to better with an extension of its Windows operating system for smart cards.
Gemplus was "one of several key companies" identified as working on Microsoft's Windows Card for delivery in the first half of next year. Concurrently, Gemplus and IBM, which are both members of the Java Card Forum led by Sun's JavaSoft unit, will be marching in another direction.
Together they will develop "a single implementation of a core engine for Java Card," which could peel away at least some layers of the complexity that inhibit technical compatibility and interoperability, said Steven Houghtalen, smart card business unit executive, IBM Pervasive Computing.
"IBM is building on Java's strengths as an easy to use, secure network technology and extending those benefits for use in smart card applications," Mr. Houghtalen said.
Patrice Peyret, director of consumer and embedded systems, Sun Microsystems, said the cooperation should "reduce time to market, lower development costs, and accelerate the growth of the smart card market."
Jacques Seneca, Gemplus executive vice president, marketing and technologies, said the companies intend to combine their product and technology strengths.
"Customers will benefit from the most comprehensive Java Card offering in the market, ranging from the best of IBM and Gemplus 8-bit smart card technology, complemented by the industry's only 32-bit smart card that addresses advanced applications," Mr. Seneca said.
He expressed confidence that the team will "promote standardization and open systems (and) accelerate growth of the smart card market." It plans pilot tests of an 8-bit card this year.
The effort should be more effective jointly than singly, Mr. Houghtalen said, because IBM engineers are heavily involved in Java but only a few are deep into smart cards. Gemplus has the smart card dedication, but its engineering force is not focused exclusively on Java.
Mr. Seneca said Gemplus' commitment to Java runs deeper because the Microsoft deal encompasses compatibility with only some Gemplus products.
In another vendor-teaming announcement at the Cartes '98 meeting, IBM said it will work with the terminal maker Intellect Holdings Corp. on systems that meet the OpenCard Framework, or OCF, specifications.
OCF stems from the work of the OpenCard Consortium, which promotes cross-platform standardization and which Intellect just joined. Other members include Sun, Visa International, Gemplus, Schlumberger, and Siemens.
Francis De Vrieze, Intellect director of strategy and business development, said its "Factory to Field" delivery concept combined with IBM's support can "address the critical issues of supporting terminals in the field throughout the product life cycle."