Liberty-Passport wars may end as products emerge

With seven companies planning services based on the Liberty authentication spec, the gap is narrowing between Liberty and Microsoft's Passport

At the launch of the first specifications from the Liberty Alliance on Monday, seven companies promised products and services which would use the standard for online authentication. Liberty members' subscribers could help Liberty catch up on Microsoft's Passport -- which is itself showing some signs of openness. "In a year or two we'll look back and say, 'What was all the fuss about?'" said Michael Barrett, vice president of Internet strategy for American Express and a member of the Liberty Alliance, talking about the identity wars that started last year. The launch of Microsoft Passport -- a centralised authentication service run by Microsoft -- prompted Sun Microsystems to start Liberty, a proposal for a system where many services are "federated", sharing information to give single sign-on for the Internet. After a slanging match between Microsoft and Sun over Liberty, Sun appears to be stepping back from the limelight, in the hopes that Liberty will no longer be seen as an anti-Microsoft alliance. Microsoft has announced .Net Platform strategy, Liberty, Passport and other authentication schemes will eventually seem to merge, just like the automated teller machine (ATM) networks run by banks. Around 14 million users have signed up for Passport, according to an estimate by Gartner Group, but many of these are not active. However, Liberty is a specification, not a service, and now that suppliers can use it in products and services, it should start clocking up user numbers. Sun has announced plans to include Liberty in its Identity Server software package, while six other companies announced plans Monday to build Liberty features into their software. Novell, which had an early start in software for directories, will release its Liberty-enabled products by the end of 2002. Other companies with Liberty software planned include: NeuStar; RSA Security, OneName, which sells digital identity software; Communicator, which sells secure electronic communications products; and Entrust, which provides Internet security software and services. For more information on Liberty see the Tech Update feature: Liberty - is usability compatible with security?

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