MasterCard International officials say it will soon help its members around the world migrate from magnetic stripe to all-purpose smart cards using a common global standard.

A multi-application operating system (MULTOS) will enable banks to load applicationsowhether credit, debit, stored value, or something elseoonto cards based on specific customer needs. Applications need only be written once and are compatible with any MULTOS card, regardless of the manufacturer or silicon chip used. And it can support each product securely and independently. MasterCard officials say they have a migration plan for banks to move to the cards.

Promoted by a consortium of eight smart card companies led by Mondex International and endorsed by MasterCard, MULTOS promises a standard chip platform that is compatible with international standards and permits products from different industries to coexist on the same card. Steve Fellows, vp of MasterCard's chip business marketing, says that licenses to use the MULTOS programming language will be available this summer; cards will be available early next year.

Visa International is testing a migration strategy of its own, with cards that utilize the Java programming language. "MasterCard has adopted a single proprietary operating system, and that means everyone in the marketplace will have to write software applications to that particular operating system," says Diana Knox, vp of chip card products at Visa USA. "We're building a system that will accommodate multiple operating systems because that will encourage more players." Fellows argues that the Visa project is incomplete. "Visa (is) building a smart card application programming interface only. We're offering a complete solution, including the hardware and software, as well as the API."

But what seems like a competitive impasse may evolve into more "compatible" systems. Mondex, which agreed to work with Sun Microsystems, has stated that standard APIs, including Sun's JavaCard, will be supported by MULTOS in the future.--peterson

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