Liberty Liberates Users From Passport

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-01-28 Print this article Print

In the real world, passports give people the liberty to travel the world. In the computer industry, liberty alliances are formed to get people to throw away their passports.

In the real world, passports give people the liberty to travel the world. In the computer industry, liberty alliances are formed to get people to throw away their passports.

Suns Liberty Alliance was set up in direct reaction to Microsofts Passport. The main goals of the alliance and Passport are to solve authentication problems for users logging on to Web services. The technologies, only parts of which have been developed, have two distinct but related purposes. For vendors and corporations, they verify that users are whom they claim to be. For consumers, they make it easier to log in to secure public Web sites, applications and any network resource created with Web services authentication in mind.

Suns success with the Liberty Alliance can be chalked up to the fear factor—specifically, the fear of Microsoft. Sun fears the company and is doing its best to make sure that its customers fear Microsoft as well. It seems to be working, because the alliance has managed to sign up some top-tier corporations, such as American Express, General Motors, eBay and Bank of America, "without even trying," said Suns chief strategy officer, Jonathan Schwartz.

The fear factor—and thats all thats driving the Liberty Alliances success so far, since it is light on technology—centers on security and data protection. Sun argues that Passport will cause corporations to lose complete control over their customer data if they go with Passport. This, of course, remains to be seen. Because Passport sits between business transactions, however, it must keep information on customers and what they are doing, giving Microsoft incredible access to data that was once much more privately held.

As it stands now, Microsoft is far ahead of the Liberty Alliance in terms of technology. The alliance mainly seeks the development of standards, while Passport is a products-based solution. Microsoft, in fact, could become a member of the alliance and develop Passport to adhere to whatever standards are created.

The alliances members are also Microsoft customers, and theyre putting pressure on Microsoft to join the alliance. But I believe Microsoft will never do it.

Should Microsoft join Liberty, and can Liberty and Passport coexist? Write to me at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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