Microsoft spec invites controversy

A Web services security specification, introduced this week by IBM and Microsoft, could emerge as a rival to the existing Sun Microsystems-backed Liberty Alliance Project.

A group of major players on the Web services landscape, including IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems, RSA Security and VeriSign announced the WS-Federation security specification on Tuesday. The specification allows software developers to establish a common way to build Web services that work with a variety of security schemes. The goal is to allow a person to log onto one Web service and gain access to multiple applications. The companies behind the WS-Federation specification said that developers using the spec can create "trust relationships" across companies to smooth electronic-commerce transactions.

While observers agree the need for a specification such as WS-Federation exists, they say WS-Federation largely re-creates work already done by Sun and other companies as part of the Liberty Alliance. The new specification could complicate the movement to build Web services industry standards by creating overlapping and competing movements, said analysts. "The last thing the industry needs are two different security/ID specifications," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with market researcher ZapThink. Bloomberg and Ron Schmeltzer, also with ZapThink, said that a potential standards rivalry could be hurtful to the industry at large.

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