Liberty Alliance plans technology debut

The consortium of companies known as the Liberty Alliance Project, which is developing a technology to link various single sign-on authentication systems using a standard specification, is set to unveil the first public release of its work at an event next week in San Francisco.

Eric Dean, chairman of the Liberty Alliance Project and chief information officer of United Airlines Inc., plans to provide details about the technology July 15 at The Burton Group Corp.’s Catalyst Conference 2002, according to an invitation distributed Monday to the press.

The Liberty Alliance was formed in September 2001 with the goal of creating a standard specification that Web sites and software vendors could support that enabled users to travel the Internet and access applications over networks using a single identity. If a user logs into a Web site that supports the specification, for instance, that user could then visit other password-protected Web sites that support the technology without having to sign in again.

Members of the Liberty Alliance said in February that they expected to release their initial technical specifications by the middle of the year.

Leading up to its debut next week, few details have been released about the specification, and some industry watchers have started to tag the specification “vaporware.” Still, the idea of a standard technology for linking various authentication systems has received an enthusiastic response from a diverse collection of hardware, software and Internet companies, said David Smith, senior analyst with Gartner Inc.

“Even before it has shipped anything the Liberty Alliance has had a huge impact on the industry as far as making sure the Web services world has an open, interoperable service for authentication,” Smith said.

It may also provide a welcome alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s popular Passport authentication service, critics of that technology argue. Microsoft’s single sign-on system allows users to access password-protected Web sites that support Passport without having to re-enter their user name and password each time.

Microsoft has yet to say whether Passport will support the standard being developed by Liberty Alliance Project, meaning systems that use Passport will only be compatible with other services that use the Microsoft technology. Executives from the Redmond, Washington, company have said they would consider supporting an industry standard specification for network identity once one has been developed.

More than 40 companies have pledged to support the Liberty Alliance specification when it becomes available, including AOL Time Warner Inc., American Express Co., General Motors Corp., Nokia Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and eBay Inc. Once the Liberty Alliance specification is released, many of those companies are expected to begin releasing products and services that implement the specification.

Sun Microsystems Inc., a founding member of Liberty Alliance Project, has said it will quickly add support for the specification to its software line, including its Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Directory Server. That support is expected to be announced within five to seven days after the release of the Liberty Alliance specification, a Sun spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

In March, the company announced its Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity, a set of software and hardware products that can be used to manage which applications and data users are permitted access on a network. Adding support for the Liberty Alliance specification would allow that identity management platform to interoperate with similar offerings from other participating vendors, such as Novell Inc. As well as unveiling the Liberty Alliance specification, executives from companies that are members of the alliance will be on hand to demonstrate products that will make use of the technology.