Liberty Alliance Waves White Flag at Passport

A growing rift among members of the Liberty Alliance authentication project is placing the technology's future in question.

A growing rift among members of the Liberty Alliance authentication project is placing the technologys future in question. At the core of the problem is exactly where to target the single-sign-on technology in the face of stiff and growing client-side competition from Microsoft Corp.s Passport service.

Officials at the Liberty Alliances founder and chief sponsor, Sun Microsystems Inc., last week went so far as to concede defeat to the Passport authentication service on the Windows platform.

"There is no way we can compete with them there. They have that market tied down really tight," said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president at Suns software group, in Menlo Park, Calif.

For Liberty to compete, a new, pervasive computing client such as a smart phone that is not based on Microsoft software will have to emerge to challenge Windows and Passport, Schwartz said. Such a device would give business and consumer users an alternative for authentication and would be a way for Liberty to come into its own, he said.

"I dont think it will be very long before we have a pervasive non-Microsoft client," Schwartz said. "Have you seen the latest cell phones, with color screens and keyboards and cameras? Thats the way itll go."

But others involved in Liberty Alliance dont share Suns view of the competitive landscape, signaling a divide between the groups leaders and its rank-and-file members.

"We dont have to concede anything to Microsoft," said Justin Taylor, chief strategist for directory services at Novell Inc., of Provo, Utah. "Liberty is much more attuned to enterprise users today than Passport is. Microsoft is trying to move into the enterprise, but we feel that were strong in that area."

Another influential Liberty member said that Microsoft may have the lead on the Windows platform, but Passport falls short in the enterprise.

"The true value in single sign-on is in cross-platform, cross-domain interaction, and in that space Microsoft has nothing," said Deepak Taneja, chief technology officer at security vendor Netegrity Inc., in Waltham, Mass. "Windows is only one part of the equation. Passport has been a huge failure, really. Microsoft managed to get tens of millions of users to register but only because its become mandatory.

"I wont say Liberty will solve all of these problems, but the focus is on heterogeneous environments, and Liberty has a better shot at that space than Microsoft. Liberty has a ways to go, and it could be that Sun is just trying to lower expectations because its taking longer than we thought," Taneja said.