Microsoft Passport: Like It or Not?

For more than a year, Microsoft has been pushing its Passport identification system — in which consumers use a single login ID and password to access multiple applications — as a crucial feature of its .NET platform.

Recently, though, the company has begun backing software called “TrustBridge” that will allow businesses to maintain their own user data rather than entrusting it to Microsoft.

“Microsoft has moved away from the ‘we will maintain it’ mentality,” Yankee Group analyst Rob Perry told the E-Commerce Times.

Conflicting Reports

Because of past product delays, software bugs, alleged bullying tactics and security weaknesses, the Redmond, Washington-based software giant has failed to build trust among some constituents.

Still, Microsoft said in January that it had managed to sign up 20 million Passport users. Although research firm Gartner noted in February that the number of Passport users was closer to 14 million, that figure still represents a sharp uptick from the 7 million recorded last August.

And Aberdeen Group chief research officer Peter Kastner has said users are “waiting with bated breath for Passport service” to relieve them of the hassle of “entering information 14 times.”

But Gartner has dispatched this caveat to businesses interested in procuring Passport: “Be aware of consumers’ privacy concerns; understand the low levels of trust in Internet companies and retailers; and take note of the strong consumer resistance to using Passport for “one-click” shopping where they need to store financial and credit card account information.”

Identity Rivals

In addition to opposition from some potential users, Passport faces formidable competition from other initiatives, especially the Sun Microsystems-led Liberty Alliance.

That alliance includes founding members American Express, AOL Time Warner, Bell Canada, France Telecom, General Motors, Global Crossing, Hewlett-Packard, Mastercard International, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Openwave Systems, RealNetworks, RSA Security, Sony, Sun Microsystems, United Airlines and Vodafone, as well as several more recent members.

The Liberty Alliance is pushing “the development of interoperable, federated identification standards” that can “drive e-commerce, enhance relationships among businesses and their customers, vendors and employees — and ultimately evolve computing in every industry,” according to Eric Dean, chairman of the alliance and chief information officer of United Airlines.

Bye Bye, Proprietary?

That might be one reason Microsoft recently has backed away from the proprietary control that Passport would spawn by revealing plans to offer TrustBridge software, which, like Passport, will allow enterprise users to retrieve information at partner companies using a single login.

“Microsoft originally planned to retain user information [with Passport],” the Yankee Group’s Perry said. “Now [with TrustBridge], partners can maintain user information.”

But Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s platform strategy group, contended that rather than adjusting its approach in order to compete, “Early on, Microsoft recognized that the key to taking the success of XML Web services to the next level hinged on the industry’s ability to ‘federate,’ or establish cross-company trust.”

Critical Move

However it came about, the move is a good one for the beleaguered software giant. Julie Giera, IT services vice president and research leader at Giga Information Group, told the E-Commerce Times that she believes the addition of TrustBridge to Microsoft’s Web services is critical, particularly in light of recent criticism centered on security issues.

“Microsoft realizes that without security and user confidence, the potential damage to its market and brand name is tremendously large, so this is a have-to,” Giera said. “The whole industry is moving this way for verification of users.”

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