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Microsoft, Liberty Alliance in Informal Talks on ID Management Standards

The two sides seem to recognize it's in both of their interests to drive clarity in the marketplace.

The Liberty Alliance says it is discussing with Microsoft ways to merge their competing technologies for identity management on the Web.

The two organizations were holding "informal talks" on whether there could be convergence or interoperability between their respective protocol stacks for federated identity management, Roger Sullivan, newly elected president of the industry consortium and an Oracle vice president, said Wednesday. Microsoft is leading the charge for a set of specifications called WS-Star, while Liberty, whose members include Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and IBM, back the ID-Web Services Framework, or ID-WSF.

Federated ID management technology makes it possible for a person to sign in to one application on a corporate extranet, for example, and have the same user ID and password be used to access data or services running on other systems, whether they are within the same corporation or belong to customers or partners.

Having two different protocol stacks capable of accomplishing the same process has led to confusion among companies looking to buy ID management systems from vendors. Often, potential customers have delayed purchases, rather than risk choosing a side that may not win in the marketplace.

"The market, in a sense, is waiting, and expects the industry to sort this stuff out," Sullivan said.

The Liberty Alliance sees common ground that both sides could agree upon. The consortium believes WS-Star provides a solid midtier infrastructure based on Web services standards and protocols, and would like to use ID-WSF technologies to build specific end-user functionality on top of that infrastructure.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

Sullivan said talks so far between the two sides have been cordial. "We've agreed that it's in both of our interests to drive clarity in the marketplace," he said. "And Liberty is very interested in driving the discussion and dialog forward in an open process."

"Open process" means Liberty would like to see more formal talks held under "some recognized industry forum," Sullivan said.

Because of customer demand for a clearer roadmap for standards, there's a chance Microsoft and Liberty will eventually work together, Sullivan said. "I'm optimistic that the talks will progress."

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