Microsoft Previews Alerts

First phase of .Net federated subscription and authentication services.

Microsoft Corp., which last week announced the preview program for its .Net Alerts notification, subscription, management and routing service, is hoping that this and its other Web services to come will spur broad adoption of its single-sign-in Internet authentication technology, Passport, from consumers and enterprise customers.

While the Alerts service is a critical part of Microsofts .Net My Services initiative, previously dubbed HailStorm, some of Microsofts partners are uncertain how many more users the services are going to lure to Passport, which already has more than 160 million registered users.

Sam Patterson, CEO of Component- Source Inc., in Kennesaw, Ga., and a Microsoft partner, said some 20 percent of ComponentSources 500,000 global customers use Passport from its Web site, but this is far from a majority of its users. "We are technology- agnostic; we have a lot of Java users, AOL users, Sun [Microsystems Inc.] users," Patterson said.

Those customers that want the .Net Alerts service have to be or become a Passport member. "I just dont know if services like .Net Alerts will drive other customers to sign up for Passport," Patterson said. "I think it will be interesting to see because the Alerts service does allow further personalization for how a user can interact with our site and get notified about things across many devices rather than just via e-mail as we do it now."

Christopher Payne, vice president of .Net My Services at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., said .Net Alerts is the first deliverable on the companys .Net strategy. "Were taking a crawl, walk, run view to this and want to nail it for these first 20 or so partners—including eBay Inc., MSN Carpoint, CNBC, MSN Money—and once we get it right and can support rapid growth, we will roll it out much more broadly."

Payne said that as Microsoft rolls out its technical road map for federating Passport authentication, there will be added services that will let businesses run and host My Services and integrate them into their core applications.

If the proposed federation of the Passport service rolls out as expected next year, users will not be restricted to the Windows platform as they currently are and would be able to use any Kerberos Version 5 key distribution center.

But Microsoft needs allies such as AOL Time Warner Inc. to make the initiative work, something it does not yet have. Payne is hopeful that AOL Time Warner will "come to the table and work on these technologies with us. Theres a real opportunity here for industry operations to help work on universal single sign-in."

AOL is rolling out a unified sign-in service similar to Passport across its properties and partner sites. AOLs service, code-named Magic Carpet, will allow users to sign in with a single click and seamlessly browse sites supporting the new technology. The service will also be compatible with AOL, AOL Instant Messenger and CompuServe 2000 accounts.

Adding to Microsofts woes around a universal single sign-in and the federation of Passport is the recently announced Liberty Alliance initiative from Sun, other computing giants and the 33 enterprises including United Airlines Inc., General Motors Corp. and Fidelity Investments.

They have banded together to outflank Microsofts Passport service for saving and checking peoples online identities. The alliance will provide a neutral method for handling those identities and said its plan will compete with the Passport system.

"We are very much hopeful that the Liberty Alliance will adopt [the Kerberos] technology standard and drive that forward as opposed to creating an entirely new infrastructure," Microsofts Payne said.

Microsoft remains "very open" to working with Sun, AOL and others on this, as it is an area where cooperation is needed, Payne said.

Microsoft is also actively targeting the development community to drive the adoption of the .Net platform and the associated Web services. Payne said the company will provide an Alerts Developer Edition, which will be announced at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week. The kit, which will enable developers to migrate to .Net My Services, will be available by the end of the year.

Analysts say Microsoft also is working on other .Net services for businesses. This set of services, code-named Blizzard, will provide corporate developers with business-to-business and enterprise-oriented Web services upon which to build. One analyst who requested anonymity said he expects Microsoft to announce Blizzard next year. But Microsofts Payne declined to comment, saying this was not something that Microsoft had talked about publicly.