The MultOS smart card operating system, recently adopted by ICL and Fujitsu, has a three year head-start on Visa's rival Java Card standard, according to a leading analyst.
Although both technologies were designed to allow multiple applications to be ported to a single smart card by the user, Duncan Brown, director of research for North America at Ovum, said that the Maosco consortium, which controls MultOS, is now "capable of shaping the smart card world" since Fujitsu, ICL and Amdahl joined the fold.
"MultOS is by far the most stable specification since compliance with the standard is verified by Maosco," he said. "Any card manufacturer issuing a MultOS card should support the same applications."
The Java Card standard, which is currently being piloted by Visa in Singapore, does not have such a stable specification, Brown said. "Each individual card manufacturer can use it and make proprietary decisions about how to implement (the standard)," he explained. "Java Card does not fix the problem that it was designed to fix."
MultOS will get a three year head-start on the Java Card standard because it places fewer demands on the hardware environment, Brown added. "Java Card is designed for a 32-bit operating environment. Most smart cards are currently based on 8-bit technology and 32-bit smart cards will not be commercially viable until 2001."
But to take advantage of its lead, the Maosco group must demonstrate that its technology will work in practice in the near future. "(It) needs to issue cards within a year, preferably six months," said Brown. "It has the card, now it depends on how it is played. At the moment MultOS has the lead but the Java Card is more than capable of catching up quickly."
Andrew Neill, director of strategy for smart cards at ICL, said the exact implementation of MultOS smart cards would depend on its clients. Possible projects include electronic purses for military bases, universities and oil platforms. But he said there would many implementations "within the next year".
Although Neill argued that Java Card and MultOS are not incompatible, the smart card market will not tolerate both, according to Brown. "There is no room for two standards," he said.
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