Be on the wave or under it
The News – 04/19/02
Microsoft Repurposes My Services
(The Broadband Content Wars series will continue
in a future SNS)
From the I Thought I’d Never See the Day Department: Microsoft
has discontinued its plans to be the central repository on the Internet
for consumers’ personal information.
The My Services service, originally called Hailstorm, was intended
to allow individuals to keep pertinent information such as contact
and credit card information “safely” stored in Microsoft’s vast
data repository where it could be easy accessible from anywhere
on the Internet. Microsoft first introduced the idea in March 2001,
and at that time, the technology received endorsements from a handful
of corporations including American Express, Expedia, eBay, Click
Commerce and Groove Networks. However, after nine months of intense
effort, neither these endorsers nor any other company has been willing
to commit to the program.
When Hailstorm was first announced, I thought, like many observers,
“Here we go again. Microsoft will use its desktop monopoly to place
itself in the center of consumer eCommerce on the Internet.” In
fact I firmly believe (along with Sun CEO Scott McNealy –
video) that Windows XP was merely an excuse to get everyone
signed up for a Microsoft Passport, the credential that is part
of the My Services service (covered in a previous SNS). I mean,
what other benefits does Microsoft’s newest OS have? (Please, Microsofties,
don’t write and enumerate the various tweaks and small improvements
XP represents. If you want a good Windows OS, get 2000.)
“People are asking what this means for Microsoft’s consumer Web
services strategy,” Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said in response
to the New York Times article that reported the My Services strategy
change. “There is no shelving, no backing off from anything.” Microsoft
will instead play to its strength – selling packaged software –
and try to sell the My Services technology as a platform rather
than as a service they control. Other corporations will buy the
platform and set up their own My Services services.
Microsoft is spinning the recently reported “shelving” decision
as a response to customer feedback to accelerate features they had
always planned as part of My Services. In a letter to customers,
the software giant said:
[Customer] feedback revealed a number
of suggestions, including:
- Support for multiple operators of these services from the outset.
- Federation out of the box: Allowing other instances to securely
interoperate with each other.
- Enterprises wanted to run the infrastructure for their employees.
- Make it easy to build and add new services that exploit the
These are all things we had always talked
about as part of our plan. What we have done is shift our priorities
to incorporate this feedback and ensure we are bringing the right
technology to market. When Microsoft launched the technology in
March, 2001, we said Microsoft would not be the only operator of
these services. In addition, we talked about a process whereby new
services would be developed, and how that would work within the
This response sidesteps the issue that Microsoft was clearly intending
to serve as the primary repository for customer information, and
now they are not. To its credit, Microsoft has adapted their strategy
to fit market conditions.
Microsoft will continue the Passport service, which, according
to GartnerGroup, has doubled its number of users from 7 million
to 14 million between last August and February. However, Gartner
analyst Avivah Litan said regarding a recent consumer
survey on the service, “Most consumers are signing up because they
have to and not because of a strong interest in the convenience
features Passport offers.”
Gartner found that 84 percent of Passport users signed up for an
account to use Microsoft sites compared with 61 percent in August,
two months before the release of Windows XP. Only 2 percent of consumers
surveyed said they chose Passport for the convenience of single
sign-in compared with 16 percent six months earlier.
The Passport service got a tremendous boost this week with news
that the US government is considering making the technology the
basis of what can only be described as a national identity service.
This fall, the Feds plan to begin testing Web sites that allow businesses
to pay taxes and where citizens can learn about benefits and social
services. They also want to be able to verify the identity of users
so the sites can share private information
Privacy advocates are concerned about services like Passport. Jason
Catlett, president of privacy advocacy group Junkbusters, said such services amount
to a transnational identification card. Such systems produce a wealth
of personal information that could be abused by governments or large
companies. “With these databases, you can be targeted. People don't
want to be targeted,” he said.
Junkbusters and other privacy experts have filed a complaint with
the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Passport deceives and
coerces consumers into giving up personal data. Catlett said it
will only get worse when such information can be tied to people's
whereabouts through being embedded in cell phones and PDAs.
Microsoft takes the opposite position, saying that Passport puts
people in control of their personal information, since they can
decide how much to share and with whom. This may be true, but it
assumes Microsoft can make the technology secure and that the maintainers
of the database of personal information can be trusted. Anyway,
it seems unlikely that the government will permit citizens to control
what it does with their personal information.
Despite the gains of Passport on the one hand, and the spin of
Microsoft on the other, the “repurposing” of My Services is a victory
for market forces. We are all so used to the software monopoly rolling
over the competition that the idea that companies may not want Microsoft
to get in the middle of their transactions seemed a feeble defense
against the Microsoft juggernaut. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t
mean they’re not out to get you!
“They ran into the reality that many companies don't want any company
between them and their customers,” David Smith, vice president for
Internet services at the Gartner Group said in the New York Times
If Microsoft plans to sell the My Services technology package to
corporations perhaps now they’ll have some competition. The Liberty
Alliance, the industry initiative founded by American Express, AOL
Time Warner, Citigroup, General Motors, Global Crossing, Hewlett-Packard,
Mastercard International, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, RSA Security, Sony,
Sun, United Airlines and others, wants to establish an open personal
really at issue here is identity on the Internet. As the old saw
goes, “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” Or a 50-year-old
man masquerading as an underage girl. Or me. That’s the problem:
Vendors need to be assured that whoever’s using my MasterCard number
is really me (and it is all about me, after all!). Credit
card issuers have made it easier to use credit on the Internet by
indemnifying cardholders against fraud. But they’d much rather be
sure it’s you in the first place.
There are other situations that need identity verification, like,
who is that really who just Instant Messaged you with news about
Britney Spears dying in an accident (as covered in a previous SNS)? And who
forwarded that email with the virus in it?
The Liberty Alliance, being sponsored by gorillas, has moved slowly.
Its intent is to create “an open, federated, single sign-on identity
solution for the digital economy via any device connected to the
Internet.” The key here is the idea of federated, not centralized,
data. The Alliance realizes that centralizing all the information
about an individual can lead to abuse. Sure the phone company knows
whom I call and MasterCard knows what I buy and the electric company
knows how much electricity I use. I can live with that (well, I
All this information can be abused, however, if it is correlated.
For example, a marketer could figure out that I just bought a large
screen TV or that I’m a good credit risk because I have eight jillion
credit cards. It’s none of their business, and federating – keeping
all your bits of information in separate places – can help keep
your particulars private.
So far, the Liberty Alliance has mostly just signed up more members,
and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer thinks it’s a joke (video).
Sun recently announced the Sun One
Platform for Network Identity, a new hardware and Java software
bundle that allows companies to build Liberty-based security systems.
The Liberty Alliance plans to release its first specification this
summer. With the new power vacuum created by Microsoft's repositioning,
let’s hope they move aggressively to create an open, secure identity
For more perspective on this issue, check out DigitalIDWorld.
Times (registration required)
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: CTOMentor
has just released a new wireless white paper, the first in The
Wireless Future series: You Can Take It With You: Business
Applications of Personal Wireless Devices. This first paper
in the series is free; others that will be available for a nominal
fee will include:
- Islands Make the Net: Wireless Networking and the Evolving
- Taking Your Business On the Road: The Car As Wireless Office
- Standards, Standards Everywhere: A Business Guide to Wireless
- M-Commerce: Are We There Yet?
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mobile Location-Based Wireless
- The Wireless Last Mile: Fixed Wireless Broadband Services
- Beyond Keyboards, Beyond Wires: Voice Activated Wireless
- Information, Entertainment, and Access At Your Fingertips:
Interactive Wireless Information Services
These white papers will be released over the coming months. To
be notified when a new white paper is released, send an email
or check www.CTOMentor.com/wireless/.
You also may want to check out the article I wrote on Instant
Messaging in the latest issue of the TaylorHarkins Insights to
- Wired Broadband in the Windy City: The City of Chicago
picked an unfortunately popular name for its Metropolitan Area
Network (MAN, oh man do we need another acronym!) effort: CivicNet.
A simple Google search would have turned up the fact that British
Columbia, Indianapolis, Norman, OK, and places in Russia and Australia
all have CivicNets. Nevertheless, Chicago’s version is an ambitious
project, seeking to aggregate the $31 million (or $25 million;
sources vary) in communications spending done by the City, Chicago
Public Schools, Chicago Park District, Chicago City Colleges,
Chicago Housing Authority, and Chicago Transit Authority. The
effort proposes to connect more than 1,600 locations with high
The City solicited proposals first in May 2001 and then again
in January 2002. The RFP responses were expected by the end of
March. So you’d think the CivicNet Web page would be updated and
current with all this activity, right? Nope. The main page was
apparently last updated last spring and when you register to get
a user ID, you’re informed about the informational meeting being
held November 13, 2000.
The initiative is moving forward, however. Mayor Richard M. Daley
addressed Comdex Chicago on the subject in early March. No word
out of City Hall yet on what’s up with the RFP responses, though.
- Wireless Broadband in the Windy City: First SoftRoad
hit the dusty trail. Then Sprint declined to take new wireless
broadband customers. Most Chicagoans desperate for broadband Internet
access had to fall back on incumbent Baby Bell Ameritech – widely
viewed as the worst of a bad lot – for DSL. Well there’s hope
yet. In an article on the ePrairie portal, Sprint confirms that
it is concentrating on developing a next generation broadband
wireless solution, confusingly termed 2G but unrelated to the
cell phone 2G technology. Sprint plans a network that will use
desktop devices rather than line-of-sight rooftop dishes that
often require a truck roll to install. It was the costly installation
(more than $1000 per location) that doomed Sprint’s previous business
model. The new point-to-multipoint network will use Sprint's already
licensed fixed wireless spectrum, and resemble a cell network
with 150 or so cell sites around Chicago. The service will concentrate
mostly on homes and some businesses. There’s no word from Sprint
on when they’ll roll the new service out to other cities.
- AOL Dumps IE in Favor of Netscape: I’ve been waiting
for this shoe to drop ever since AOL acquired Netscape in 1998
and improbably continued to offer Microsoft’s browser, even after
suing them. Now they’re converting CompuServe (acquired in 1997)
users over to Netscape in what could be a prelude to a conversion
of AOL users. When Microsoft released Windows XP, AOL lost its
favored position as preferred provider, and thus the impetus to
use Internet Explorer. It remains to be seen if this move re-ignites
the browser wars.
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