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Intel Joins Liberty Alliance

Adding the chipmaker gives the alliance broader coverage within electronic manufacturing.
The Liberty Alliance Project says Intel has joined the industry coalition building specifications for Web authentication.

Alliance president Michael Barrett also confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that Intel has joined the organization's management board, which also includes American Express, Time Warner, Ericsson, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Sony, Sun Microsystems, and VeriSign.

The addition of Intel gives the alliance broader coverage within electronic manufacturing. The group's members include computer makers and manufacturers of cellular phones and handheld computing devices.

"It helps round out the manufacturing side (of the alliance)," said Barrett, who is also VP for privacy and security at American Express.

In a statement provided by the alliance, Intel said it was joining the group because authentication and identity management on the Web are "critical to the success of new computer and communications usages."

"Liberty Alliance brings together an exciting array of companies from many industries to define these standards, and we are looking forward to working with our customers and member companies to make implementation a reality across all the hardware platforms we provide," said George Goodman, Intel's director of system software.

Intel's membership is more important to the alliance than to Intel, particularly since tech heavyweights Microsoft and IBM have chosen not to join and to pursue different approaches to Web authentication, said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst at market researcher ZapThink.

In general, industry groups like the Liberty Alliance find it difficult to get specifications in products and out to end users quickly. Depending on vendor support, the process can take years--and sometimes never happen at all.

"Intel is giving the alliance a bit of a leapfrog by supporting them and giving them credibility in front of customer demand," Schmelzer said.

From a technical standpoint, Intel may help software makers building product on top of the company's chips support alliance specifications, Schmelzer said. However, the real plums for the alliance are wireless carriers and cellular phone manufacturers. Getting them to join en masse means the software in handsets will support alliance-developed technology, which can translate into hundreds of millions of devices worldwide.

The alliance late last year finalized its framework for sharing user identification among Web services. The Liberty Identity Web Services Framework rounded out the organization's previously released Federation Framework, technology that would enable a user to access services on several web sites using only one username and password.

The Web services framework enabled user identity to be shared among web sites based on Web services standards, such as Soap, XML and WS-Security.

The group, which has about 160 member companies, is developing specifications for extending the Federation Framework into geo-location and other services. Beyond technology, the alliance has also taken on the task of developing best practices for businesses interested in deploying its services to protect consumers from privacy violations.

Sun started the alliance in 2001 to counter Microsoft's own authentication system, called Passport. Since then, however, the business models of the two efforts have become very different, analysts say.

While Microsoft has offered Passport as a single sign-on service for consumers looking to buy from multiple retail sites, the Liberty Alliance has become focused more on developing technology that could be used under the covers to share customer information among business partners.