Microsoft's decision to scale back plans for its .NetMyServices has dealt a potentially fatal blow to the concept of a single transferable internet identity, and is threatening future ecommerce developments.
A single, secure, transferable network identity is "desperately needed", according to Tim Jennings, research production director at analyst firm Butler Group. "I can't see the next generation of web-based commerce taking off without it," he said.
A single web identity would reduce the need to constantly input passwords as users move from website to website.
.NetMyServices was to have established this, but its initial proposals, where Microsoft held all data centrally, have been met with apathy among industry partners, and opposition from privacy groups. Last week, the software giant canned the plans.
Work towards providing users with a secure network identity is continuing at rival consortium, the Liberty Alliance.
The group, which includes companies such as Sun Microsystems, RSA Security and AOL Time Warner, is expected to release its initial specifications by the middle of this year.
But such efforts will prove fruitless unless Microsoft can be persuaded to join the Alliance, warned Jennings. "There are too many web-based applications that rely on Microsoft. To do it without them will take too long," he said.
.NetMyServices was originally conceived as a means of allowing consumers to access a network of 10 basic services, such as calendars, alerts and an electronic wallet.
The services were to have been controlled by Microsoft. End users would have used a single username and password to access the services, and other third-party services offered as part of a federated network.
But a lack of enthusiasm for the idea of Microsoft retaining massive amounts of customer data has prompted a rethink.
"The people we spoke to liked the idea, but were not comfortable with Microsoft hosting," said John Noakes, .Net policy manager at Microsoft UK. "We listened, and have relaxed the control over who can host."
.NetMyServices will now be offered to corporations and service providers to host for themselves. No statements regarding Microsoft joining the Liberty Alliance were expected at this stage, said Noakes.
While Microsoft's changes will allow users to access some online services, it will not answer the need for a single internet identity, said Jennings.
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