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Microsoft, Open ID and the future of authentication

Microsoft announced today that the company is throwing its weight behind the OpenID system.  Microsoft’s Live ID will become an OpenID with the launch of their OpenID Provider (OP), which will initially be launched within Microsoft’s Community Technology Preview testing service. ”The current Technology Preview release is for testing purposes only, and is not intended for widespread adoption at this stage. After a period of industry testing and feedback, we will be incorporating any necessary fixes and feature enhancements into the next revision, to be released to Production sometime in 2009.”

There is a list of non-compliant websites, which users are demanding the use of OpenID on their sites, Demand OpenID.  The site lists some of the most recognized sites on the web, such as Google, Twitter, FacebookWikipediaYoutube and del.icio.us.  It will be very interesting to see who else follows Microsoft’s lead in this area.

This action is not surprising given Microsoft’s support of Open Standards, which hit its stride with the standardization within ISO of OOXML earlier this year.  In the release, they note “We have been tracking the evolution of the OpenID specification, from its birth as just a dream and a vision through its development into a mature, de facto standard with terms that make it viable for us to implement it now.” The fact that Microsoft is awaiting the maturity of non-Microsoft standards before they throw their weight behind them indicates that there will be a competitive approach to standards development in the coming years and we will be in a period with a number of competing standards for several years. 

The New York Times covered the announcement in today’s edition.  Quoting from the article:

“This move by a traditionally proprietary organization like Microsoft could be the signal that gives the market – both large and small players combined – the confidence to invest more time and energy into the widespread adoption of OpenID. That is good news for OpenID proponents. And it’s equally good news for all of us who are interested in simplifying the management of our identity across the multitude of sites we use on a day-to-day basis.” 

Microsoft has a Windows Live ID blog where more information will be posted as the testing moves forward. The library and publishing communities have been dealing with the thorny issue of authentication for a number of years.  The application of OpenID solves part of the problem, but does not address the other key aspect of authentication: certification. There will still need to be some considerable work toward rationalizing authentication and identity management, making the process simpler for end-users through a single sign-on is a big step in the right direction.  

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