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Microsoft’s vision of a building an identity layer into the core of the internet is throwing up some unfamiliar avenues of collaboration with the open source community.

The new announcements at Interop Las Vegas amount to another step along this road. Microsoft is competing for thought leadership in this strategic topic, and a bit of collaboration is a price well worth paying.

More bridge building with the open source community

Microsoft announced three more initiatives at Interop Las Vegas, aimed at furthering its vision of an identity layer within the Internet environment. These were:

  • Microsoft Identity Selector Interoperability Profile - allowing developers to use Microsoft software to build open source identity selector software.
  • Open source projects to enable web site developers to support information cards in Java on Sun web servers or IBM WebSphere servers, Ruby on Rails web server and PHP for Apache web server.
  • An open source project to build an adapter for Microsoft's identity Lifecycle Manager to allow synchronisation between Active Directory and Open LDAP Directory Server.

Furthering Microsoft’s identity vision

This announcement is evolutionary and not unexpected. These steps are part of Microsoft's ongoing programme to build out the so-called identity layer of the Internet. This layer brings together three types of entities:

  • users of web services and web sites
  • identity providers that can authenticate a user and assert facts about the user
  • site and service providers that are reliant on this identity information in order to deliver their services.

Microsoft recognises that this layer must interact with all web sites and web services, and be accessible to all web users. This layer must be platform independent at all levels.

Open Source Identity Selectors were demonstrated, in prototype form, at Novell's recent Brainshare conference to show identity-based collaboration across platforms. The latest announcement will help to accelerate the spread of such products to more platforms.

Clearly websites and applications have to be able to deal with Microsoft's Infocards and interact with identity providers and end users adopting Microsoft's paradigm, and point two of the announcement allows them to do so when the web sites are built on open source technology.

Microsoft has recognised that a practical barrier to the adoption of its CardSpace vision is the laborious process that identity providers will have to go through to populate their identity store and so it is working to automate the process of replicating identity information held in Active Directory into identity stores. Point three recognises that many potential identity providers are using other types of enterprise directory.

Microsoft has to co-operate

This area provides Microsoft with an opportunity to act as a "good global citizen", to be seen to be collaborating gracefully with its competitors, and even to be acting with magnanimity. The reality is that Microsoft wants to be taking the lead and dictating the agenda to the industry.

To do this it has to be relevant to all internet users, and not just facilitate communication between users, identity providers and reliant parties within the Windows domain.

Graham Titterington is software principal analyst at Ovum