Multos, the operating system that underlies the Mondex smart card, is gathering support and momentum from the technology community.
Maosco Ltd., the consortium formed last May to promote the Multos standard, announced a new member-Giesecke & Devrient, the German smart card company. The group now has nine members and eight voting seats, one being shared by MasterCard International Inc. and its Mondex subsidiary.
Also last week, Maosco said 12 vendor companies, including prominent smart card makers Gemplus and Schlumberger, had made commitments to supply cards and systems based on Multos.
Maosco said four makers of silicon chips are on board: Hitachi, Motorola, Siemens, and one still to be announced.
"This gives us a good, wide range of products that will be out in the marketplace," said Nick Habgood, chief executive officer of Maosco in London.
"We now have all the elements required for mass-market delivery," he said, "including multiple sources of silicon, card manufacturers, application development tools, a rich and growing set of applications, and the commercial framework to control and license the Multos specification."
The announcement was meant to emphasize the progress made since MasterCard, Mondex, and the rest of the charter membership group launched Maosco last May.
Their aim was to divorce operating-system and standardization concerns from Mondex's marketing purview. Their current ambition is to sign Mondex competitors as consortium participants or licensees. That could confer on Multos the status of an open standard through which to encourage development and deployment of products and services worldwide.
In promoting and safeguarding the operating system, which defines the inner workings of the chips that can do anything from stored-value payment accounting to health-care record keeping, Mr. Habgood and his organization are explicitly neutral.
"Mondex intends to be global, and Multos is its chosen platform, but my interest is in driving Multos as an open, independent standard," Mr. Habgood said this week. The theory is that if the industry coalesces on the technical baseline, free-market competition will more readily spur production and innovation.
The standardization principle, though widely embraced in the high- technology community, has struggled for acceptance in the smart card realm.
The Mondex-Multos camp has most obviously tangled philosophically with Visa International. Visa based its chip strategy on the Java programming language and Java Card API, or application programming interface, while criticizing Mondex and Multos for not being open enough.
Maosco (the name comes from Multiple Application Operating System and is pronounced "mouse-co") regards Multos and Java Card as "different, potentially complementary standards" and fully expects the Multos framework to support Java implementations.
Jerome Svigals, a consultant based in Redwood City, Calif., who has been favorably disposed to Mondex and Multos, called the announcements last week "real progress." He said they brought multiple-application capability closer to reality than would be possible on Java-based cards, which require more processing capacity and are more costly to produce.
But Mr. Svigals said Java may win out in the end: "Multos is probably the short-term answer, Java the long-term answer when smart card prices decrease."
Given the political sensitivities, Visa may be less likely to join Maosco in the near term than Proton, the stored-value system founded by the Belgian Banksys association, or the German Geldkarte venture.
Mr. Habgood, saying "nothing has been signed or sealed," predicted he would have an international payment association in the consortium within three months. "That is really important to making Multos a truly open platform," he said.
He added that Multos has grown out of the first phase of "getting up and running" and is concentrating on bringing in new members. He hopes to be able to announce three or four technology company additions by late April at the Cardtech/Securtech conference, a major industry event in Washington.
"We have a number of these things in the pipeline, but we are dealing with some large and complicated organizations, and they take time," Mr. Habgood said.
In related signs of how fast Multos is moving, a few consortium members announced implementations of the technology. Some indicated that the multi- application operating system was necessary to unleash some marketing energies.
"When we got started last year, we were planting the seed for the technology," Mr. Habgood said. "Now an infrastructure is in place to actually produce and deliver cards globally."
"We are confident that we will see a whole host of (nonbank) players, such as governments and the telecommunications industry, writing applications for Multos," said Richard Phillimore, MasterCard's senior vice president, chip card business.
He said MasterCard expects to work with its members "to differentiate their chip products-offering consumers fewer, more useful cards that deliver vast new convenience and value."
"With our unique experience in banking, loyalty, GSM (the mobile communications standard), multimedia, and security, we are well placed to maximize the development of future Multos applications with third-party partners," said Amadeo D'Angelo, managing director of the De La Rue card systems division, a United Kingdom-based vendor that promised to have a Multos product out this year.
Motorola, a Maosco consortium partner, said it would have silicon chips meeting the specifications available shortly.
Keycorp, an Australian payment automation company not related to the U.S. banking company of the same name, said its Multos-based program on a Siemens chip platform also will be on the market this year.
The Japanese electronics company Hitachi Ltd., in conjunction with Dai Nippon Printing of Japan, said they are the first to have Multos cards in production and have already received orders for more than 500,000 chips.
"The open availability of the first high-security, multi-application operating system will be a boost for the industry as a whole," said Taira Takahashi, senior managing director of Dai Nippon Printing. "We expect to have supplied card issuers with two to three million Multos cards by the end of 1998."