If it's not bloatware, its shrinkware. At the Smart Card show last month, the hype-of-the-day was all about multi-function cards. This means that you won't have to fill your wallet with credit, debit, loyalty, ID, phone etc. cards. You will just have one, or perhaps two, or perhaps three, to cover all your most intimate needs. This will all be possible because smart cards have lots of storage capacity on their gleaming chip, rather than drab old magnetic stripe cards, which can hardly manage a name and PIN number. And of course these cards will be electronic purses as well.
These multi-function smart cards will come in basically two varieties in the UK - Mondex (MasterCard) or Javacard (Visa). As usual, there are two operating systems vying for dominance here, (it should be noted that the Continent has been spawning such operating systems for years, but nobody here will pay any attention). The Mondex variety is powered by an operating system called Multos, which is sponsored by a group of smart card manufacturers called Maosco - pronounced MouseCo. This operating system is hand-crafted, and made in Britain, more or less at machine-code level. About 300 programmers in the world have had the patience to learn how to do this.
The alternative Javacard is, as its name implies, a sub-set of Java.
This is great, as everybody can program in Java nowadays ... well, nearly everybody. So we now have a great, open world language for everybody to develop their own smart card applications from biometric identification of football hooligans to SET authentication of ECommerce transactions.
This will really turn the wired computer community on to smart cards, as everybody has heard of Java, where nobody has ever heard of any of the funny Franco/German players in smart cards, like Schlumberger, Gemplus and Giesecke & Devrient. Now, the Anglo-Saxons or Rosbifs, as the French call us, have at last something to hang onto, and which we can understand.
After all, Java was invented by an US company. Therefore, it must be all right.
But, hold on a sec. The tiny chips that you see on your BT phone-cards are very clever, and indeed much cleverer than the mag-stripes that preceded them. But, I found out at the smart card show that they still only have about 32K of memory, to hold both the operating and the application systems without any disk backup.
Now, I am of the generation that remembers the ICT 1900 multi-programming executive which ran on 8K of 24bit words in 1964. So I know that wonders can be done by tightly-disciplined programmers, few of whom exist in today's world of bloatware. But I also remember how few of my customers actually used the multi-programming facilities we offered them. The machines in those days were simply not powerful enough, to use the software on offer.
What applied then for mainframes, now applies to smart cards. To talk about multi-function smart cards with that amount of memory is ludicrous.
The functions (applications) will be have to be noddy. I tried to find out how much memory would be taken up by the operating system, whether Multos or Java, and got evasive answers.
It will get better, and I would back Multos in the short term, because it is hand-crafted for a specific purpose. I wouldn't touch Javacards for a year or two, until the memory of smart cards goes up to 128K at the least. Java was written by youngsters with profligate programming habits, for many differing purposes.
This is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, I'm a geriatric, and have been here before.
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