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Sun to buy smarts for Java card

The company is acquiring a Silicon Valley start-up to boost its efforts to add Java to smart cards.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) is acquiring a Silicon Valley start-up to boost its efforts to add Java to smart cards, the company announced today.

Sun is purchasing Integrity Arts--a 15-person team that specializes in tools to build tiny operating systems and applications on smart cards--for an undisclosed amount from Gemplus, which held a majority stake.

"They are probably the No. 1 provider of smart card applications in the world," said Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products at JavaSoft. "They have terrific expertise in building applications that run on smart cards."

JavaSoft, a division of Sun, is working on the next version of its Java Card specification, a set of Java programming instructions, or APIs, which help developers write smart card applications. The version is expected to be releases next month, according to company officials.

Smart cards generally come in two varieties: memory cards and true smart cards. Memory cards hold a small amount of data, such as a dollar amount or the number of minutes of phone time; most telephone cards or debit cards are types of memory cards.

True smart cards, on the other hand, contain information about the user, such as personal identification, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and health and medical information.

These cards have also been positioned as key elements of identification and authentication systems in some computer networks. Some makers of network computers are already offering smart card readers--devices that decode the information in smart cards--with their systems.

Smart card technology has gained wider acceptance in Europe, where Integrity Arts has had most of its success. Employees from the company will become part of Sun's JavaSoft division.

Tom Karlo contributed to this report.