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Sun pushes cheaper Java cards

Sun Microsystems plans to encourage broader use of its Java Card technology by offering consumers a lower-priced variant.

Sun Microsystems plans to announce Monday that it will encourage broader use of its Java Card technology by offering a lower-priced variant.

Java Card technology currently is used for higher-end "smart cards," which look like credit cards but have a small processor to handle several basic computing tasks. Sun's new plan, called Java Card S, is intended to spread Sun's Java technology into a lower-end class of smart cards that handle only a fixed number of functions.

Java Card S licensees won't have to pay as much as regular Java Card licensees, but Sun representatives declined to detail pricing.

Java Cards are tiny computers with the most stripped-down version of Sun's Java technology, which lets a program run on a variety of computers. In the smart-card arena, that permits manufacturers to write smart-card programs for tasks such as user authentication or encrypted data storage.

For Sun, Java Cards aren't a primary source of revenue, but rather are intended to prompt companies to buy Sun's servers to handle back-end tasks such as authenticating people who log in using Java Cards. Indeed, Sun plans to release in 2004 a specialized collection of server software, called the Java Card System, that will be geared for those tasks.

Sun has backed Java Card technology for years; the company estimates 400 million have been shipped, more than half of that for use in mobile phones' subscriber identity module cards.

Java Cards also are part of Sun's overall attempt to use Java to thwart Microsoft. While Microsoft would prefer people to write software to work on Windows and now on its .Net software infrastructure, Sun argues that Java is the better-established foundation. As evidence, it points to widespread use of Java 2 Enterprise Edition on servers; agreements under which Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others include Java on Windows desktop computers; and the millions of Java-enabled cell phones that have been sold.

Also Monday, Sun plans to announce version 2.2.1 of the Java Card specification. The new version adds support for new wireless communication and security standards, according to Sun.