Most vendors jump at the chance to trumpet a new version of software in a press release, even if it's only moving from Version 6.2.1 to 6.2.2 ("Now with user-customizable color co-ordination for error messages!"). Some vendors ship major new versions without even an e-mail to the press (Novell, please copy!). But Critical Path has now kicked it up a notch.Not only does Critical Path's press release announce a new version of its Meta-Directory package, no; it's a whole new generation of meta-directory. In fact, it's the fourth generation. Nothing in the marketing material mentions what the first, second or third generations might have been but the fact that the package also carries a version number of 4.0 gives us one clue that perhaps Critical Path is testing a new definition for "generation."That's both good and bad. It did draw my attention to the announcement (as it was the intention, I guess), but it left me wondering if this release was more hype than substance.There is a lot going on in this release, most importantly the meta-directory now supports Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and related xML (SAML, SPML, WS-I, etc.) specifications natively. As a result, Web services can be linked into, as well as automatically provisioned by, an organization's existing HR applications, operational databases, directories, and other identity systems. There are also improved auditing and monitoring facilities, allowing any standard SQL reporting tool to monitor activities managed by the meta-directory.Meta-Directory 4.0 runs on Windows, Solaris, and HP-UX platforms and provides connectivity to over 70 different applications including:* Directories from the industry's major vendors.* Relational databases from Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.* Enterprise applications such as SAP HR, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.* IBM RACF mainframe security and other operating system platforms.It also supports industry-standard interfaces such as Java, Perl, XML and SOAP to provide easy extensibility; you don't have to learn proprietary scripting or programming languages in order to integrate your organization's applications and data.I've always been a bit critical of Critical Path, because I sense that this old-line messaging company has never fully adjusted to a role as an identity company.Its approach to directory services has always been a bit different from the one I favor. In fact, just a couple of months ago I mentioned that the company had announced a new password management service for the enterprise that appears far too little and far too late to revive this former identity and communications giant (https:\/\/www.nwfusion.com\/newsletters\/dir\/2003\/0721ds2.html).I've felt that Critical Path's legal problems over the past couple of years (see story link below) have limited its productivity and innovation on the software front. Version 4 of the meta-directory, though, appears to mark the beginning of a new era in which Critical Path will again compete on an even footing with the other major players in the identity arena.If you use, or are thinking about meta-directory services then you should take a look at Version 4. If you're a vendor of meta-directory services, then you definitely need to closely examine Version 4.