Bull, Gemplus, and Schlumberger, historically the Big Three of smart card innovation and production, were in the spotlight last week at Java One, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s annual showcase for its advanced, Internet- friendly computing framework.
The smart card companies typified how far system developers have come in putting the Java programming language to work over the last three to four years.
The Java Card applications programming interface, now in version 2.1, yielded GemXpresso 210 from Gemplus. In demonstrating it last week at the San Francisco event, the French manufacturer described GemXpresso 210 as "the first range of smart cards" based on Java Card 2.1. One in the range, 210PK, supports highly secure public key encryption operations.
Bull, also of France, worked with its affiliate Ingenico on a Java- programming first for point of sale terminals. It was said to be the first worldwide implementation of the K virtual machine, which is designed for "embedded systems" in compact, low-power devices.
Motorola Inc. also demonstrated K virtual machine, or KVM, on a PageWriter 2000x two-way pager. Sun and Audesi Technologies of Canada worked with Motorola on a tool kit for developing screen telephone and smart card applications of KVM, formerly called Kjava.
Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals, which by some estimates has surpassed Gemplus in number of chip cards produced, said it is building on a recently announced agreement with Pervasive Software Inc. with a remote data base technology that could have a significant impact on the financial and health-care industries, among others.
These companies have been busy on other fronts with equal or farther- reaching implications. The Schlumberger unit in San Jose, Calif., this month was involved in Compaq Computer Corp.'s announcement of the Aero 8000, a hand-held personal computer with an embedded smart card reader for security and other purposes. And Gemplus introduced GemCombi/MPCOS, a "combicard" version of its operating system with both contactless and conventional terminal-contact interfaces on a single chip.
But those seem part of the normal course of competitive events. On top of that, the Java Card activity represents a multi-vendor movement and a vote of confidence that extends to Visa International's technological preferences. Visa's smart card specification, Open Platform, is based on Java and figured at least by implication in some of the Java One announcements.
Bull and Ingenico's development of K virtual machine for the Amedeo POS terminal, said Philip Yen, Visa's senior vice president of emerging products and overseer of Open Platform, is "a significant achievement and another major step that will ultimately help Visa member banks and merchants to take advantage of the benefits provided by smart card technology."
Combined with Open Platform, "K virtual machine will significantly increase opportunities for cardholders to use Visa cards in a wide variety of devices and to have a wide choice of both payment and nonpayment functions," Mr. Yen said.
"KVM creates a new realm for Java technology because of its flexibility and small size," said Mario Rivas, corporate vice president in Motorola's semiconductor products sector. Motorola has been drawn to Java because it is a major force in cellular phones, pagers, and other devices that require the utmost in programming efficiency and security measures fitting their "small footprint."
Mr. Rivas said KVM "has the ability to change and exchange applications easily," which can be done with smart cards or other means over the Internet or telephone connections. "This increases portability and enables developers to write for platforms within small, embedded devices that have low processing power, low memory, and low power-consumption requirements."
JVM, the Java Card virtual machine, is a standard software component of products such as Gemplus' GemXpresso. The line includes GemXplore for wireless communications and RAD, a rapid application development package designed to speed products to market. The 210 range is available at either 16K or 32K memory levels and can handle remote downloading with data encryption as specified for Visa Open Platform and Visa Cash cards.
GemXpresso 210PK was the first card of its kind to pass Visa Cash certification tests, Gemplus said.
Patrice Peyret, director of consumer and embedded products at Sun Microsystems, said Gemplus "has always been a strong supporter" as a founder of the Java Card Forum. He said GemXpresso "makes possible ... an exciting range of powerful solutions based on the Java Card platform."
Separately, Gemplus said it is jointly marketing with ISOL, a developer of software for information appliances, SQL Machine, a Java Card data base system using the SQL standard. They said that Java and Microsoft Visual Studio developers can use "micro-data base servers" for identity, loyalty, government, transportation, and other applications, with the option of putting many services on one card.
The system "enables users to securely and conveniently carry a data base on a smart card," said Gilles Perrotey, Gemplus' director of worldwide Java Card marketing. "It not only makes possible the easy integration of smart card systems into traditional client/server architectures, but also enables the secure and easy management of information on a smart card using standard data base programming methodologies."
SQL-Systems Query Language-was also key to Schlumberger's Java work with Pervasive Software of Austin, Tex. The latter offers a family of "data base engines," Pervasive.SQL 2000, to meet the needs of smart card, embedded system, and mobile device "footprints." Pervasive has a development agreement with the smart card maker, which plans to test the application on its Cyberflex Access cards.
"We believe that our data base engines offer the range of size and functionality required by this new generation of special-purpose devices and are simply a much better fit in this space than offerings proposed by enterprise-level competitors," said Pervasive president and chief executive officer Ron Harris.
Tom Lebsack, Schlumberger's director of partnership programs, said, "We envision a day in the near future when a single smart card with sophisticated on-board data management capabilities is used by consumers for routine activities involving identity verification, transactions, and portable data storage. Pervasive's pioneering work in embedded data base technology represents a powerful step toward making this vision a reality."
In its deal with Houston-based Compaq, Schlumberger said it is contributing to the first hand-held PC with a smart card reader-a 2.9-pound "thin client" device for remote access to computer systems, with a full complement of security options ranging from simple passwords to data encryption and digital signatures.
Merzad Madavi, director of information security for Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals North America, said, "Compaq is breaking new ground with its smart-card-enabled, hand-held PC. This evolution in technology will make smart cards a common tool for secure network access in homes an offices."