Bull Puts Power Into Java Smart Cards

Groupe Bull SA has unveiled its plans for using the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) as the basis of its new line of smart cards.

The new Odyssey cards will start off using 8-bit processors, with 32-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors being introduced in 1999 once their price comes down. "RISC technology is not yet ready for smart cards," said Christian Goire, Bull's director of advanced products.

The first card, the Odyssey I, will have 24K bytes of read-only memory (ROM), with 8K bytes of EEPROM and 1K byte of RAM.

The company said the ROM is large enough to accommodate Visa's credit-debit application, while the EEPROM will be able to hold other applications such as loyalty programs and electronic purse.

The card has been developed with SGS Thomson SA, which is supplying the electronic circuits for the device.

Bull has improved the performance of Java to "acceptable levels," by working on the JVM, according to Goire. In early tests Java programs took 30 times longer than a comparable C program to perform, such as 12 seconds to handle a financial transaction.

Goire, who is also president of the Java Card Forum, said there are a few technical problems remain with Java, such as how to share Java objects between applications, and how to download file formats to the cards. These are likely to be settled in the next release of the Java Card API, due out in June, he said.

Bull also released details of Odyssey II, a successor smart card which will appear by the end of 1998. This will have 32K bytes of ROM, 24K bytes of EEPROM and 1K byte of RAM. The 32-bit RISC-based Odyssey III is due in 1999, Goire said.

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