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Competition will Make Liberty Alliance a Success, Says Sun --But Microsoft still not likely to join just yet!
Competition will Make Liberty Alliance a Success, Says Sun --But Microsoft still not likely to join just yet!

American Express joined the Liberty Alliance last Wednesday, just a day after AOL Time Warner announced its support for the effort, strengthening Sun Microsystems’ alternative to Microsoft’s Passport authentication system.

Initiated in September by Sun Microsystems and about 30 companies and IT vendors, the Liberty Alliance is working to build a shared single sign-on and authentication system allowing Web users to access password-protected Web sites and perform other online transactions without entering personal information in each case. At a meeting held last week, Eric Dean, CTO of United Airlines, was elected to be the president of the governing body of the Liberty Alliance.

Although Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer commented at a Gartner conference earlier this fall that the Liberty Alliance “has absolutely zero probability of mattering to the world,” the participation of American Express and AOL Time Warner increases the likelihood that the Alliance will have an impact on Web access issues.

Marge Breya, vice president of SunONE, a Sun division participating in the project, noted that American Express had taken part in the Liberty Alliance since its inception, but hadn’t made its involvement public until this week. Breya stated that about 13 other member companies are involved with the project without public declarations of their affiliation.

Mark Herring, Director of Sun’s Strategy Office, spoke with JDJ, describing the goals of Sun as a member of the Liberty Alliance. “The powerful thing is that this group has both complementary and competing firms, all working together with goal of creating something bigger that they all can leverage. One example: Nokia and Vodafone are competing for business, but they’re both members of the Liberty Alliance. The Liberty Alliance is working to establish an identity solution that enables single-sign-on for consumers and businesses in an open, federated way. The goal here for Liberty-enabled businesses is to ensure that they keep their existing customers happy and gain trust to get more customers.”

Herring continued, “The very exciting thing is that if everyone can adopt this, the consumer will be able to move more easily between Web sites. There is a matter of trust, and whom you can trust. In the Passport authentication system, just Microsoft holds all of the information. But with the Liberty Alliance, there’ll be more of a loosely federated system, much as exists in banking. I can go to my local Wells Fargo and set up an account there, for example, and then interact with any other bank in the country that has is part of the Star. My personal information is only held at my bank, and when I deal with other banks only a small portion of my information is shared, and only during that transaction. The advantage is that I don’t have to give out all of my information every time I wish to deal with each new entity, and in turn they know I am who I say I am. If we can bring this type of model to the Internet and coalesce around a standard, it will ease Internet commerce for corporations as well as for the customers.”

There are currently more than 30 participants in the Liberty Alliance, among them Fidelity Investments, Bank of America, Sony, eBay, Sprint, Nokia, Cingular Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, American Airlines, United Airlines, the Apache Software Foundation, Bell Canada Enterprises, Cisco Systems, Dun and Bradstreet, Entrust, GM, Global Crossing, i2, Intuit, Liberate Technologies,Openwave, RealNetworks, RSA Security, Sabre, Schlumberger, Travelocity, and more. The addition of American Express, a credit card company, is seen as significant, given that the alliance is addressing a primary security issue of the credit card industry: assuring that people are who they claim to be. Sheer numbers of subscribers make AOL Time Warner an important addition to the Liberty Alliance: AOL’s Internet service has more than 32 million subscribers.

The Liberty Alliance hasn’t yet released its specification or demonstrated technology utilizing Liberty standards, although Sun has said it plans to detail the future of Liberty in upcoming weeks. Microsoft’s Passport authentication service, a single sign-on technology allowing subscribers to visit participating Web sites without signing on to them individually, is already running and has 200 million users, mostly people who have signed up for free Hotmail e-mail accounts. Breya stated that in a recent conversation with Microsoft executive Charles Fitzgerald, director of business strategy, Fitzgerald confirmed that Microsoft was considering membership in the Liberty Alliance Project if its authentication platform will be based on an open standard. Such a move could mean the creation of a vast network of Web service and Web sites that would share a common technology for authenticating users.

About Java News Desk
JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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