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Microsoft Aims for ‘Identity Metasystem’

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Microsoft (Quote) announced Wednesday a set of initiatives aimed at aiding interoperability between competing online identity management systems based on information card technologies.

As part of the effort, the company is sponsoring four open source projects focusing on information cards. Additionally, it is making more of its Web services technologies royalty free, with the promise not to sue for patent infringement.

Thirdly, it is collaborating with two partner companies to develop an open source adapter to allow Active Directory to exchange identity information with OpenLDAP.

In theory, the set of moves will both boost support for Microsoft’s CardSpace information card identity management technologies in Windows Vista as well as make it easier for competing ID technologies to interoperate with them. (CardSpace was previously codenamed InfoCard.)

Microsoft has designated CardSpace as a key component of its efforts to create an “identity metasystem” for the Web. Despite earlier efforts to the contrary, the software giant appears to have come to the realization it cannot expect to have complete hegemony over the Web’s ID systems, so it has to interoperate with others – for both its own good as well as the rest of the industry.

“Our customers expect us to enable interoperability between Microsoft-based solutions, as well as across other platforms and technologies,” Bob Muglia, Microsoft senior vice president of the server and tools business, said in a statement.

It’s yet another example of how pragmatic Microsoft has become.

“They want to promote the use of CardSpace but they realize that that’s the nature of the Internet … [that] there are going to be heterogeneous deployments and they have to work with the industry to achieve interoperability,” Gerry Gebel, vice president and service director for the identity and privacy strategy group at researcher Burton Group, told

As part of the effort, Microsoft has begun four open source projects to demonstrate CardSpace interoperability with information card applications written in Java, Ruby on Rails, and PHP. For instance, one project will use Java to enable interoperability across Apache Tomcat, Sun (Quote) Java Web servers, and IBM (Quote) Websphere application server platforms running on Linux or Windows, the company said. An additional project will focus on producing a generic C Library for use with any Web site or service.

The projects are being hosted on SourceForge and on Microsoft’s Codeplex site.

Since it first announced its Open Specification Promise (OSP) last year, Microsoft has made several important specs available. These include Web services specifications for WS-Trust and WS-SecureConversation. Both address identity metasystem scenarios and have already led to interoperable identity projects including Novell’s (Quote) Bandit and the Eclipse Foundation’s Higgins Trust Framework projects, according to Microsoft.

Under Microsoft’s OSP, the company grants irrevocable rights to developers and users to use the covered technologies without paying royalties and without fear of patent lawsuits.

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, the company said it is now placing the Identity Selector Interoperability Profile version 1.0 – referred to as WS-I Basic Profile — under the OSP aegis. With this latest addition to the OSP, open source and commercial software developers can build their own identity selector software using Microsoft’s specifications.

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