Java Card Forum

The Java Card Forum is an industry association of companies from the smart card, secure operating system and secure silicon industry, working together to promote and develop Java as the preferred programming language for multi-application smart cards, secure devices and other execution environments.

The Birth of JavaCard

By Tad Bogdan and Ted Goldstein, Ph.D.

They say that success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan

In the early 1990s, the smartcard industry had many hardware platforms each with their own unique operating environment. Like the computer industry decades before, each smartcard manufacturer created proprietary software tools. The manufacturers intended to optimize performance on their smartcard platforms, and to lock customers into their platforms. Customers such as MasterCard and Visa demanded an open, standardized platform from the industry before committing to a smartcard strategy. Many efforts began to answer this need, two of which were Mondex and Integrity Arts. David Everett of NatWest bank in England designed Mondex, a multi-application, multi-currency, secure, smartcard-based payment system. Meanwhile, Patrice Peyret at Gemplus formed a spinoff company called Integrity Arts that created a new programming language called TOSCA. But the tools for programming Mondex and TOSCA were not available to the public.

At the same time, the Sun Microsystems’ Java platform was trying to solve a similar problem of software applications that would work on any computer. Java implemented the ideal of Write Once, Run Anywhere (WORA) applications. Sun founder Bill Joy always proposed open portable platforms. The Java system enables binary programs to run unmodified across any computer platform using an object-oriented C-like language. The Java language uses a portable byte code that is dynamically compiled across any CPU architecture.
The Internet was just emerging as a potent technology and enabler of many new businesses. Smartcards seemed like a good way to bring physical security and identity to credit and debit cards, and government ID cards, and emerging mass-transportation systems. Before Java, smartcard developers had to program in low-level machine code, a tedious error-prone process. The Java system provided an easy-to-use, efficient, high-level language to create secure applications for commerce and the Internet. The trimmed Java system designed for smartcard applications was called JavaCard.

In 1995, seizing this opportunity, James Gosling and Ted Goldstein created JavaCard to expand Sun’s Java franchise and offer a subset of the Java language to develop secure payment applications. Java even works on the largest Cray supercomputers. Thus, having the great virtue that Java programs could then run from smartcards to supercomputers (SC-SC) —the most extensive range of computing capabilities possible. Smartcards were well established in Europe. But payment systems in the USA at the time used magnetic stripe technology and did not yet have a smartcard platform. Giant payment aggregators such as Visa and Mastercard did not want to commit to a single smartcard manufacturer. Peter Hill, Executive Vice President at Visa, recognized in JavaCard an opportunity to have a smartcard manufacturer-independent standard. Visa became the first large payment company to license JavaCard. Visa mandated JavaCard for all of Visa’s smartcard payment cards. Later, MasterCard acquired Mondex, and Peter Hill joined as their CTO, licensed JavaCard, and ported the Mondex payment platform to JavaCard.

The following fall, Ted Goldstein authored the first JavaCard 1.0 API as part of the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1 specification. He became Sun Microsystems’ Chief Java Commerce Officer and began presenting JavaCard publicly.

Concurrently, Tim Jurgensen and Scott Guthery of Schlumberger Inc. were developing a smartcard system based on Java. So they visited JavaSoft (a new division of Sun Microsystems) to ask whether they could license the Java name. JavaSoft had already begun working on JavaCard, so the Java team explained that the Java licensing model was not just a name and a logo. It also required that any Java product conform to interoperable manufacturer-independent standards and pass a
compliance software test suite. JavaSoft and Schlumberger decided to join forces. With Schlumberger’s endorsement, the idea of JavaCard prompted Sun to commence a licensing campaign to smartcard manufacturers and their customers.

Tad Bogdan rejoined Sun to head up the JavaCard Sales and Business Development initiative. He developed the business licensing model for JavaCard and proceeded to license JavaCard to over twenty smartcard companies, comprising 95% of the smartcard world market. Sun formally launched JavaCard at the Salon de Cartes in 1996, and the first royalty payment for JavaCard was received in June of 1997. The JavaCard forum began that same summer in Marseilles, France. Before the end of year, Sun Microsystems acquired Integrity Arts from Gemplus, giving Sun sufficient technical horsepower to support the smartcard technology and to create JavaSoft’s implementation of the JavaCard API.

There are now many billions of JavaCard products in the world. Payment and Financial Services were the original market driver, which quickly expanded to include Telecom, Set-top boxes, Government Identity, Corporate Identity, Portable Anonymous Stored-value, Transportation, Network Security, Medical, and other markets. An industry full of JavaCard Forum members, licensees, developers, and customers make JavaCard arguably the most ubiquitous operating platform in the world. Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 and still licenses the JavaCard technology to new licensees every year!

Tad Bogdan is currently a consultant, speaker, and the author of “HOW TO MASTER THE UNIVERSE: A Guide for Mastering you Personal, Interpersonal, and Professional Lives”

Ted Goldstein, Ph.D. is a consulting CTO and investigator seeking new horizons in technology, artificial intelligence, and healthcare. Previously he was an Apple Vice President and a cancer researcher on the Faculty of Medicine at University of California at San Francisco.