Novell Joins Liberty Alliance Project

Brings identity management experience, endorses open standards.

Novell Inc. last week joined the Liberty Alliance Project single-sign-on effort, adding yet another marquee name to what is shaping up to be a partisan fight over the future of identity management on the Web.

The Provo, Utah, company will bring its considerable experience in identity management to the alliance, which is designed to develop a Web-based service to manage user information across multiple sites and platforms.

The move is not a surprising one given Novells long history in this market and its equally long-standing rivalry with Microsoft Corp. The Redmond, Wash., software maker has a competing service known as Passport, which manages identity data on dozens of Microsoft services and partner sites.

Liberty Alliance members include some of the largest companies in the high-tech industry, most notably Sun Microsystems Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc., as well as a wide variety of players from other industries, such as General Motors Corp. and American Express Co.

Although Liberty Alliance members are careful not to portray the project as an anti-Microsoft consortium and say publicly that theyd like to see Microsoft join them, Sun and AOL are perhaps two of Microsofts most vocal critics, and the companies have clashed often on a variety of subjects.

Most recently, AOL filed a lawsuit against Microsoft on behalf of its Netscape Communications Corp. division charging that Microsoft did irreparable harm to Netscapes business during the "browser wars" of the mid- and late 1990s.

Novell will lend its long experience in the identity management market to the Liberty Alliance, which is still in the process of laying out a road map for its project. Novell officials said its important that the alliances technology uses open industry standards as its foundation.

"The industry must develop and promote open standards that permit the effective use of personal and business data in a way that ensures the privacy and security of that information," said Carl Ledbetter, chief technology officer of Novell. "Such a standard must be invulnerable to unauthorized use and safe from even unintended misappropriation and clearly must not be under the control of any single institution or business entity."

The Liberty Alliance-Passport rivalry has taken an odd turn of late, however, as several members of the alliance have made overtures to Microsoft about joining its project, a prospect that Microsoft has said it is considering.

It is likely that the two parties will end up collaborating on some level.