First Direct, Midland Bank's telephone banking arm, has created what it claims is the first commercial application written in Java.
The application is an Internet-based home banking system, developed in partnership with ICL. It is about to go into pilot testing with 2,000 customers.
Java badly needs real-world applications to help shake off its image as a "toy" language, suitable only for creating lightweight programs.
ICL said it was confident that Java was now a stable enough language for mission-critical applications. The First Direct PC Banking service has been in development for the last six months.
"Someone has to be first with these things," said Tom Martin, general manager for Internet banking at ICL. "The Internet has made technology accelerate faster than ever before, and this is propelling Java to maturity."
Once the service is up and running, customers will be able access it by dialling a 0345 local number from home PCs fitted with a modem and bespoke software supplied by the bank. Initially, customers will need Windows 95 and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.02 web browser. The PC must also be equipped with a minimum 486 DX50 processor and 16Mb of RAM.
However, First Direct said it plans to extend web browser support to include Netscape Navigator. It is also considering adding Apple Mac support in time for the service's launch in the autumn.
As well as being touted as the first commercial Java application, the project also represents First Direct's entry into the PC home banking market. It has 700,000 UK customers and estimates that 28% have the required hardware to access the service.
Tim Basford, customer service manager of the PC banking service at First Direct, said the bank may extend its home banking activity to include the delivery of services through TVs, NCs and PDAs.
"One of the big advantages with the way we have implemented the Java application is that we are able to expand it easily," he said.
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