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Group readies passport alternative

Microsoft's recent announcement (Sept 19) that it will make its Passport identification service interoperable with rival online ID systems is "too little, too late" for Sun Microsystems and more than 30 other corporations, who last week laid plans to jointly build an alternative technology.

The new, Sun-backed Liberty Alliance Project will seek to develop a single sign-on authentication system that won't force users to entrust data and privacy to one organization. The coalition claims that the system will work with any device that plugs into the Internet—PCs, mobile phones, TVs, and credit card machines.

Microsoft's pledge to make the two-year-old Passport authentication system compatible with similar products from other companies, including AOL Time Warner and Yahoo, "looks very similar to Microsoft's long-held strategy, applied to Java and other products, of first embracing them as open, then extending them with proprietary Microsoft elements, and ultimately extinguishing them," the companies said in a joint statement.

The Liberty Alliance member roster currently includes American Airlines, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, eBay, Nokia, RealNetworks, RSA Security, Sony, United Airlines, and Verisign.

Some alliance members have said Microsoft has been asked to join the coalition, though spokesmen for the Redmond, Wash., giant have denied receiving any invitation.

Privacy advocates have criticized the Passport service, because it gives Microsoft control over large amounts of personal data. But the Microsoft system is already in fairly widespread use. Passport is currently running with approximately 165 million registered users. When Microsoft launched Windows XP next month, with Passport integrated into the OS, those numbers are expected jump dramatically.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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