July 16, 2002 2:30 PM PDT

Sun aims new server software at online IDs

Sun Microsystems unveiled new server software Tuesday to boost an effort to create a universal online identification system that serves as an alternative to Microsoft's Passport service.

Sun released software that supports new technology by the Liberty Alliance Project, which on Monday released an online identification standard that lets people surf the Web without having to constantly re-enter passwords, names and other data at different sites.

Sun's new Identity Server 6.0, which manages computer users' access and authentication, now supports the Liberty standard. The Identity Server includes a built-in version of Sun's directory server-software, technology that serves as a "white pages" of information about computer users and resources, such as PCs and software.

With the latest version of its Identity Server product, Sun joins half a dozen other companies, including software maker Novell and security software companies RSA Security and Entrust, that are supporting or planning to support Liberty in their products.

But for Liberty to take off, analysts say more support from software makers is needed. Microsoft, which has its own Passport authentication service with 14 million users, has ignored an offer to join Liberty. IBM and Oracle, which has long supported Sun in its Java programming language efforts, have remained neutral on the matter.

"The value in Liberty is in everyone supporting it. It's of limited value if Sun and Novell are the only ones," said analyst Shawn Willett of Current Analysis. "The value is if it's widely implemented by the Oracles, IBMs, Microsofts and BEAs of the world."

Sun originally launched Liberty in September, positioning it as a Passport killer. But lately Sun has receded to more of an advisory role while potential corporate users, such as United Airlines and Visa International, have taken over more of the actual work in creating the technology. Liberty's list of supporters include some big names, including America Online, Cingular Wireless, France Telecom, United Airlines, American Airlines, American Express, MasterCard and General Motors.

Willett said tech companies, particularly Sun and Microsoft, need to work out their differences so all the different authentication systems can work together. Sun is partly to blame by originally positioning Liberty as Sun versus Microsoft, he said.

"They keep setting this up as wanting to stop Passport in its tracks. Ultimately, why not include Passport in all this," he said. "They have to stop being antagonistic. Federating two technologies together, that's the goal."

Willett said both sides have yet to make a strong effort to come together. Microsoft executives, however, say they believe Liberty, Passport and other authentication systems will eventually merge.

As part of its product announcement Tuesday, Sun updated its package of software, hardware and services for helping businesses build online identity systems. Originally released in March, the family of products now supports the Liberty standard.

The package includes the new Identity Server 6.0, which was previously called the "iPlanet Directory: Access Management Edition." Identity Server, which will ship in October, is available now to Sun customers who join its "early access" program, said Andy Eliopoulos, director of product marketing for Sun's Network Identity products.

Sun is also releasing a new version of Sun's directory server-software. Version 5.2 of the directory server, available in November, will support Microsoft's Active Directory technology. Other parts of the package include the Solaris 9 operating system, Sun servers and storage products, Eliopoulos said.

 

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