Microsoft's InfoCard draws open-source response

IBM, Novell to join "Higgins Project" efforts to provide alternative to managing Internet logins and passwords.

Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
Joris Evers
3 min read
IBM and Novell on Monday are expected to announce an open-source response to Microsoft's forthcoming InfoCard identity management technology.

The companies plan to contribute to an open-source initiative code-named Higgins Project. The project aims to help people manage their plethora of Internet logins and passwords by integrating identity, profile and relationship information used across authentication systems on the Net.

The initiative also includes the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and Parity Communications, a company developing "social commerce" software that has been operating in stealth mode.

The open-source project, managed by the Eclipse Foundation, is a response to Microsoft's InfoCard identity management technology, Anthony Nadalin, distinguished engineer and chief security architect at IBM, said in an interview.

"This is a move to help get identity management out in the open source. InfoCard is one user-centric identity system...but the implementation Microsoft has is not what I would call open," he said. "There are a lot of hidden elements." One example, he said, is how it interacts with Active Directory, Microsoft's identity management technology for businesses.

"I think we are really going to see the identity big bang--a whole wave of social and identity-aware applications that are suddenly becoming possible."
--Kim Cameron, identity architect, Microsoft

Microsoft has described InfoCard as a technology that gives people a single place to manage authentication and payment information, in the same way a wallet holds multiple credit cards. An InfoCard client on a PC will connect with Web sites that need information for authentication or transactions.

Yet, the Higgins Project is more than a rival to InfoCard, Nadalin said. "We are not here to create another identity system; we are here to aggregate the existing systems," he said. "We have invited Microsoft to participate...and we will continue to work with Microsoft to integrate with InfoCard. We think that has to happen."

The Higgins Project will complement InfoCard in providing client software for operating systems other than Windows, Nadalin said. Also, it will make existing identity management products, such as IBM's Tivoli software, work with InfoCard, he said. IBM is expected to support Higgins in its products sometime next year.

"Microsoft would be left out in the cold without Higgins; it allows Microsoft to participate in non-Windows environments," Nadalin said "Customers want choice. They end up voting with their pocket book. They don't want to be locked in."

The Higgins Project looks to be a step forward in solving the problem surrounding online identities, said Kim Cameron, identity architect at Microsoft. "From what I've seen, this is a very positive development," he said. "I think we are really going to see the identity big bang--a whole wave of social and identity-aware applications that are suddenly becoming possible."

But while Nadalin may have his mind set on where the Higgins Project is headed, nothing is set in stone, said Burton Group analyst Mike Neuenschwander. "It is open source; it is hard to tell exactly where it will head," he said.

There are other efforts to integrate identity information. But with IBM and Novell, the Higgins Project has attracted big-name support, Neuenschwander said.

"Everybody wants to be that central hub that integrates everybody else's stuff," he said. "Higgins is significant in that IBM and Novell have stepped up to say they are going to develop their client software under that project."

Neuenschwander doesn't expect to see anything tangible come out of the Higgins Project until at least the end of the year. "Then we can see with greater certainty where they are headed," he said. "Microsoft has made it much further down the road with InfoCard."

Microsoft plans to deliver InfoCard by the end of this year as part of Windows Vista, the next version of its flagship operating system. InfoCard will also be available for Windows XP, Microsoft has said.