Java-based Passport: Contender or pretender?

Australia-based BuyItOnline has released JPassport--claiming it to be the first Java-based version of Microsoft's Passport authentication service.

An Australian software company has entered into the authentication-systems battle between Sun and Microsoft, claiming to have released the world's first Java-interface to Microsoft.NET My Services. But is this a legitimate contender, or, as some suggest, a pretender?

Australian-owned BuyItOnline has developed and released JPassport, a Java-based version of Microsoft's much-publicized authentication product, Passport, which allows an e-commerce Web sites access to Microsoft's single sign-on system for user data and authentication.

The product has been released in conjunction with software giant Microsoft's Australian and international offices, as a means of Passport-enabling Java-run sites, according to Jeff Ayling, BuyItOnline's technical director.

"We really wanted to Passport-enable our site, but Microsoft didn't provide a way of enabling the site with Passport if you were running on Java--they only provide a Windows solution--so we created JPassport," says Ayling. "With the help of Microsoft Australia, and overseas, we have managed to completely replicate their Passport project in Java, so we cover every function that's available."

However, according to Southern Storm Software director, Rhys Weatherly, JPassport is "not an implementation of all of Passport, it is only the client request side."

"I suspect that any half-decent Java programmer could write the same thing as JPassport from scratch in about a week if Microsoft were to document how the protocols work," says Weatherly.

Weatherly has been involved in a Microsoft.NET-related project for more than a year, writing code for a Portable.NET project as part of GNU/Linux's version of .NET.

While Weatherly does not dispute claims that JPassport is the first of its kind, he highlights the work that is being done on single sign-on authentication systems worldwide.

"They (BuyItOnline) may be correct (in claiming) this is the first product in the world of its kind. But this is perhaps because almost everyone else is trying to replicate the whole of Passport, not just the client side, for example Liberty Alliance," says Weatherly, referring to the Liberty Alliance Project, spawned by Sun Microsystems in 2001.

JPassport joins MS in battle against Sun
Ayling is unconcerned about competition from the marketplace--in particular from Sun Microsystems. He believes that merchants will be drawn to Microsoft's authentication system over that of its competitors, and that Sun will be concerned about the presence of JPassport in the market.

"I think Sun would maybe wish JPassport wasn't around," says Ayling.

"You hear these reports of Sun saying they are creating an authentication platform, just like Passport that Java people can use but I think from a merchant point of view, they don't really care so much which platform it is.

"The great thing that Microsoft brings to this party are 200 million holders of Passport. Sun can never do that. Sun have got great links with the developer community, while Microsoft has the contacts with the general public," says Ayling.

Sun, for the record, declined to comment on Ayling's statements.

Ayling disputes claims that other companies have developed, or are in the process of developing, products similar to JPassport.

"This is a world-first, because we are letting users write in Java and run it on a Solaris machine. Every single other one we have seen, they are hacks. They are trying to get bits of technology and trying to pull it together. We have created a proper Java solution for Passport where users can install, write and run Passport in Java," Ayling claims.

The project has officially been launched, and Microsoft and BuyItOnline are currently working together to promote the idea in the marketplace.

Cog in the Microsoft money machine?
According to Ayling, there is already interest in the product, with sites such as The Basement one of the many already signed-up.

"We have already received the go-ahead from a number of companies...we look after 27 big merchants from Shopfast.com.au to Wishlist.com.au with a marketing project we are involved in, so we will be going out to all of those merchants as well," says Ayling.

Microsoft has embarked on an ambitious marketing program, waiving the sign-up fee for Passport for the first twelve months, according to Frank Arrigo, developer evangelist for the .NET developer group.

Arrigo claims this waiver applies to users signing up to JPassport, and that Microsoft Australia is currently in talks with BuyItOnline about the latter company becoming a reseller of Passport.

BuyItOnline's Ayling confirms reseller discussions and refers to his company as an "extra cog in the Microsoft money machine." He believes that the provision of a Java version of Passport will attract new customers to Microsoft products.

"The Microsoft money machine was only able to pick up the Microsoft community before, and now it can pick up the Java community. Once we've pulled a person from Java through to using Passport, who knows what other Microsoft services they might start using," says Ayling.

According to Ayling, JPassport is targeting the Java community exclusively, and not approaching existing Microsoft Windows users.

"We are not talking to Windows people at all. If Windows people want to use Passport, they should do it the Microsoft way. Anyone that's using Linux, or Solaris, or Java, all of these people can use JPassport and we are directing the customer flow back to Microsoft," says Ayling.

Southern Storm Software's Weatherly believes JPassport's relationship with Microsoft is not ideal.

"The server side and the database of user information remains under Microsoft control...leaving the database in the hands of Microsoft is not a good idea," said Weatherly.