Microsoft has given up on trying to hawk its controversial Passport sign-on service to other companies.
Microsoft's decision to shut down its Passport partner program comes after one of its largest allies - eBay - said it would retire Passport at some point this January and use its own service instead. Redmond will still offer up Passport as a single sign-on tool for its own services such as Hotmail.
This move by Microsoft to give up on being a type of internet services middleman can be seen as a major victory for the rival Liberty Alliance, which is comprised of serious tech heavyweights such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP and Nokia.
Microsoft now intend to focus on making software tools that can be used by other companies to create their own web services.
Passport allowed Microsoft to keep track of a wide range of customer information, including credit card numbers. It could then pass on this information to partners for use in their own internet services. The process was meant to make life easier on consumers, as they only had to remember one user name and password to log on to a wide variety of web sites and services.
Rivals, however, quickly complained that Microsoft was trying to dominate internet transactions. Sun, in particular, warned Microsoft's partners that they would eventually lose control of their customers if they picked up Passport. The competitors formed Liberty Alliance to create a set of identity management standards that could be shared by vendors.
Passport also made privacy advocates nervous. Microsoft suffered one of its most embarrassing moments in May 2003 when it revealed that all 200m Passport users could have their private information made public because of a security hole in its service. The US Federal Trade Commission vowed to look into the problem and said Microsoft could face a huge fine, but the FTC has not disclosed whether or not it did in fact fine the computer giant in the end.
While Microsoft is backing down from promoting Passport, it still has very real identity management aspirations. It makes a variety of products for managing internet services and will continue to play a role in this part of the software market.
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