Sun Microsystems is expected to announce today, Sept. 26, an alliance offering an alternative to Microsofts Passport user authentication service for online user IDs and transactions.
Sun CEO Scott McNealy said yesterday, Sept. 25, that he was opposed to Microsoft establishing Passport as an unchallenged user authentication technology for a wide range of Internet services. His comment came as Sun launched its Sun Fire 15000 high-end server in New York.
Microsoft officials said last week that they were opening Passport services to any interested third-party user. An online retail site or other service provider can make use of Passport by interfacing with it through Kerberos, an open source user authentication system used on Unix servers.
Microsoft said it has created 165 million Passport accounts, though not all of them remain active. Observers estimated that there are 100 million active users of Passport.
Predictably, Microsoft Group vice president of platforms Jim Allchin views the Sun initiative as so much sniping.
"I have not seen their announcement, but my initial reaction is Sun is late to the party," Allchin said as he talked up Passports planned compatability with other digital identity technology. Suns announcement, he added, is a reaction to the inroads Microsoft has made with Passport.
"I dont know why people have formed this ill-formed perspective that all digital IDs are going to be in Passport. Do you think all governments are going to put digital IDs into Passport?" he asked.
He rejected the idea that Passport, while it is exclusively Microsoft technology, is a closed system. "We have been on path [using] Kerberos the way you do federations inside a company that talk to Passport [on the outside]."
Sources close to the alliance said Sun and its allies will be able to top that figure as they put together a Sun-proposed technology alternative, backed by a major financial services company and an online retailer. IBM is not a technology partner in the alliance at this stage, as it was in the early stages of Sun establishing the Java programming language.
Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman of another Sun partner, AOL, said AOL was not participating in the announcement. Sun and AOL sponsor the iPlanet software division together.
AOL is reportedly preparing its own user authentication service, code named Magic Carpet, which would allow its customers to log in once and then be recognized as an authenticated user at a variety of sites. Weinstein said AOL was making no comments on Magic Carpet at this time.
McNealy is scheduled to announce the alliance at 11:30 a.m. EDT.