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Passport's demise; going mobile

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 18, 2005
(Issue 2311, The Long Arm of the Law)

While it's generally not too smart a move to bet against Microsft, there have been some notable failures to come out of Redmond, Wash. Anyone remember "Bob"?

While Bob died a deserved and merciless death due to the utter ludicrousness of the design, Microsoft's latest flop was due more to Microsoft simply getting beat out by other players in the market.

Microsoft has announced it will no longer be supporting the .NET Passport login tool.

When it was released several years ago, Passport was touted as the next killer app for online commerce. No longer would you need to remember your login information for every Web merchant you frequented. You'd simply set up your Passport account, and anytime you went shopping online, you'd type in your Passport login info.

Great in theory, not so good in practice.

The fact that it was Microsoft developing and promoting Passport raised the concerns of privacy activists from the get-go. Who was going to control the Passport database? How would it be protected?

Criticism was even directed at Passport from conservatives, or at least libertarians, who didn't think having one centralized identity verification tool was much good for competition.

And given the fact that when Passport debuted, Microsoft was fresh from getting caught trying to use Windows XP to control which online merchants users would see first, there was understandable concern at having one of the world's most powerful companies controlling everyone's online shopping access.

Security issues

As with seemingly every Microsoft product outside, maybe, "Monster Truck Madness," hackers soon found a way to crack the Passport security tools.

What good was a identity verification tool that couldn't be trusted?

It all – the negative publicity, the security concerns – - added up to make merchants wary of adopting Passport.

And so few Web sites adopted Passport – and its most prominent non-Microsoft user, eBay, stopped using Passport in late January.

The future

Microsoft has said it will no longer be developing Passport as a universal identity validation tool, but will continue to use it in-house (so if you have a Hotmail account, you'll continue to sign in with Passport).

But the need, or at least desire, for a universal identify verification tool for online merchants still exists.

The Liberty Alliance is a consortium of more than 150 business, non-profit organizations and governmental bodies working to create a Passport-like tool: One that will not raise anti-trust issues, be truly secure and have the trust of consumers.

More mobile choices

Everyone with a cell phone made in, say, the past five or six years can get e-mail on their phone – at least, for a price.

PDAs and palmtop computers can also access e-mail via wireless connectivity.

But the concept of mobile computing takes in more than smaller and smaller devices. What about the new flash USB sticks?

Ritlabs, a Moldova-based software company, has published TheBat! e-mail client for several years now. It's a good, solid client – one I've used for the past year and been quite happy with. Ritlabs now has issued TheBat! Voyager – a mobile e-mail client that works with a flash stick to enable you to not only access your e-mail from any USB-enabled computer with Internet access, but to have your address book and all your mail boxes available wherever you go.

Not having a flash stick nor a PC that would recognize one (yeah, yeah, you think I don't know it's time to upgrade?), I haven't tested Voyager.

But it is certainly an imaginative approach to mobile computing.

More on Gmail accounts

Those six Gmail accounts I had were gone within a few hours of the column offering them. However, Google slowly replenished my supply of invites, so about 18 readers got Gmail accounts all told.

While Gmail is still in Beta as this is written in mid-February, Google is apparently getting ready to ramp it up. I now have 50 invites on my account, and, after signing up some months ago to get more information about Gmail (off a link that no longer seems to exist on the Gmail welcome screen), I received an e-mail to one of my other accounts offering me a free Gmail account.

Probably getting close to Gmail going public.