Microsoft scales back Passport ambitions

Microsoft is recasting ambitions for its .Net Passport identification system, saying the service now will be limited to its own online offerings and those of close partners. Microsoft no longer sees Passport as a single sign-on system for the Web at large, a spokeswoman said.

Microsoft repositioning of Passport comes as careers Web site Monster.com said it was dropping support of the authentication service. Monster was one of Microsoft's banner Passport users.

Once a key part of its hosted services strategy, Microsoft has been quiet about Passport in the past few years and has not done any significant development work on the system. Instead, the company has been quietly scaling back several of Passport's components. A directory of sites that support the service was removed this year, and in March 2003, a payments feature was axed.

Passport is clearly not all Microsoft made it out to be. In 1999, the Redmond, Washington-based company envisioned thousands of online stores and other services using Passport, allowing users to sign on using the same user name and password combination used for Microsoft services. But the reality turned out different, as Web site operators balked at the idea of having Microsoft control access to their sites. Aside from Microsoft-owned sites only a few dozen others signed on to Passport.

Microsoft has "learned a lot" over the past few years from working with partners and customers working with Passport and has adjusted its ambitions for Passport accordingly, said Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN at Microsoft.

"Going forward, the mission of the Microsoft Passport service will be to provide authentication services to Microsoft services and products and to Microsoft partners," she said late Tuesday in an e-mail response to a reporter's questions.

Cutting Passport ambitions is part of Microsoft returning to its software roots, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "Microsoft's interest in hosted services has decreased since 2001. The company's focus has returned to software, which is where it belongs," he said.

In 2001 Microsoft announced that eBay and TMP Worldwide's Monster.com would adopt Passport, two of only a handful of big-name companies Microsoft was able to sell on Passport. Monster.com is cutting Passport this week, while eBay continues to support the technology although it is hardly used, spokesmen for both companies said.

"Based on the adoption rates of Passport, which represented a low percentage of Monster users worldwide, a decision was made to make the most effective use of resources within Monster" and end support for Passport, said Monster spokesman Kevin Mullins.

Microsoft acquired the Passport technology in 1998 when it bought Firefly Technologies. It initially used Passport as an authentication service for Hotmail and other Microsoft services, but in 1999 pitched Passport as the solution to all online shopping woes. Adopting Passport for user authentication would save companies time and money and give them an instant audience of over 200 million Passport users, Microsoft said.

The market largely rejected Passport as the system's security was tested by hackers and scrutinized by privacy watchers who did not like the idea of Microsoft controlling user information. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe eventually put restrictions on Microsoft and Passport. Also, Internet users, it turned out, don't decide where they shop because of the log-in service an online store supports.

Additionally, Passport faced competition from the Liberty Alliance, which was formed in late 2001 and set out to create an open authentication platform as opposed to Microsoft's proprietary Passport technology. The Liberty Alliance, originally sponsored by Sun Microsystems and about 30 other companies, has continued to expand and specifications developed by the group are supported in several products.

The Liberty Alliance consortium slowed Passport's momentum, because it presented an alternative to Microsoft's model, which centralized identity information, said Michael Barrett, vice president of security strategies with American Express and the president of Liberty Alliance.

"Liberty changed the dynamic, simply because we came out very quickly and said that centralized is not the right model, essentially because there are parties that will never trust one centralized identity source," he said. "By the end of 2002, nobody was talking about Passport... it was remarkable how fast the centralized idea died."

With the failure of Passport and the interoperability pact struck April of this year with former arch-rival Sun, Microsoft may elect to join the Liberty Alliance or support the group's specification. Microsoft and Sun have said that identity management is one of the first areas they hope to achieve interoperability.

On Wednesday, IBM announced that it had joined the Liberty Alliance. Microsoft has said it might join the group, but so far has not. IBM's move could put pressure on Microsoft, according to Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink. "I think it will encourage them to take a look at it."

Whether or not Microsoft joins, however, depends on the extent to which its customers demand it. "Microsoft doesn't always follow the pack," Schmelzer said.

Directions on Microsoft's Rosoff agreed that Microsoft's participation in the alliance was a possibility. "I could certainly see Microsoft join the Liberty Alliance," he said.

Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this story

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joris Evers

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?