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The Liberty Alliance aims to produce an alternative to Microsoft Passport, which has an established user base of 165 million people.
Graham Titterington, senior analyst at Ovum, said, "Having two, possibly incompatible, systems seems to defeat the object from the customers' point of view. Companies will have to decide whether they are a Microsoft shop or an Alliance shop."
The concept of a single sign-on is attractive to companies because it means that users do not have dozens of passwords to remember. "A high proportion of helpdesk time is spent on forgotten passwords," said Titterington. "A single sign-on could save 30% to 40% of the cost of running a helpdesk. And a secure single sign-on would guard against the dangers of users having copies of the same password spread all over the company's systems."
Microsoft is not taking the Liberty Alliance challenge lying down. Phil Cross, developer marketing manager at Microsoft, said, "Competition is good for the customer but what's in it for the customer to have to deal with a new standard?
"Passport is based on Kerberos, which allows federation of a single sign-on using an industry standard."
However, Microsoft may decide to co-operate with the Liberty Alliance following a meeting between the two organisations later this month, Cross said.
Kerberos, which Titterington described as non-stan-dard and clunky, is an open security standard developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
RSA Security and Verisign will guide the Alliance's technology decisions. Although its members include Bank of America, Verisign, Sony, Cisco, Real Networks and RSA Security, notable absentees are Oracle and IBM.