• United States

Liberty Alliance’s wasteful exercise

Nov 05, 20033 mins
Access ControlEnterprise Applications

* Liberty Alliance tries to compare apples with oranges

In the last newsletter I took issue with the Liberty Alliance and its white paper, “Liberty Alliance & WS-Federation: A Comparative Overview,” which was released at the recent Digital ID World conference. I thought it was ill-advised to launch what amounted to an advertising campaign to “sell” a specification when there’s really no need (at least at this time) for people to be forced to make a choice.

The thing that led me to believe this is nothing more than the start of a marketing campaign, dreamed up by someone who would be more at home selling “new and improved” detergents, was the way the topic is presented. If you saw a study entitled “Apples & Oranges: A Comparative Taste Test” published by the Washington State Apple Growers association you’d probably be able to predict that pies and turnovers would play a big role in determining which fruit “tasted” best. When the Liberty Alliance compares its specification to WS-Federation it’s also a lot like apples vs. oranges.

The Liberty group has produced a wide-ranging specification that covers, as much as possible, all facets of identity federation including transport protocols, legal agreements, schema definitions and more. WS-Federation, on the other hand, is simply one part of the Web Services Initiative and relies on other specifications within WSI to provide these services.

It would be well to remember at this point, how the Liberty Alliance came about. Two years ago, Sun CEO Scott McNealy convened a meeting of major customers and charged them with coming up with a counter to Microsoft’s Passport Service (see the details at The only identity technology provider at that meeting was Sun (at the time, part owner of iPlanet, for which it was well along in buying out its partner, AOL). Privacy and security advocates had been beating up on Microsoft for the real and perceived shortcomings of Passport (and the earlier, much maligned, “Hailstorm” initiative for identity sharing). McNealy saw the opportunity steal some thunder from Bill Gates, and took it.

Sun is no longer the major player in the Liberty Alliance that it was two years ago, but it appears the folks who are running it still see Microsoft as “the enemy” in some sort of war for the hearts and minds of the business community. That’s distracting them from their real mission – developing a useful service that adds value to our networks. It also detracts from the mission by painting the alliance as no better than the “tastes great, less filling” mindless marketing mavens who fill up the broadcast airwaves. C’mon Liberty, you can do better than this.