Tag Archives: U-Prove

Cool stuff, in twenty years

Felix Gaehtgens calls Microsoft onto the carpet about what it is ever going to do with U-Prove. Kim Cameron responds here with a call for patience. Both make good points, but I fear that as interesting as U-Prove is, it is way too far ahead of the market.

There are two reasons for this; first it is patent encumbered technology. Patent encumbered technologies fair very poorly in today’s market. After a few high profile patent fights, any technology that is patent encumbered is treated like nuclear waste by most vendors. Even if Microsoft adopts fair licensing terms it becomes a “get a lawyer first” barrier to adoption. In twenty years this won’t be a problem (so long is Microsoft doesn’t file for any more patents on related aspects).

Second, it solves a problem that the market doesn’t really care about today (although they should). This is the same problem that the notion of an Identity Oracle has. You haven’t heard much about that idea recently and for good reason. There is just no money to be made with it (yet). The use cases usually trotted out for both of these are typically edge conditions, my favorite being the RU/18 one. It’s like the Hello World of Identity.

The only people who REALLY care if you are over 18 when you buy something are your parents and the government.

In today’s world there are two privacy problems, under sharing and over sharing. Under sharing is when you have to fill out the same stupid questionnaire at every new doctor’s office you visit. Now that is an issue that people care about. I know they care about it because non-computer people complain to me about it often.

Over sharing is when you have to put your home address in to register for something even though shipping isn’t required. I almost never hear anyone complain about that and those that do just put bogus addresses in anyway. Maybe in twenty years the average person will care enough about privacy to worry about over sharing. But not today.

So U-Prove will be cool stuff in twenty years. Maybe.

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Who do you trust and why?

Ben Laurie has issues with the Microsoft purchase of Crenditica that deal, ironically enough, with trust. Specifically Ben does not trust Microsoft to make the U-Prove technology interoperable with other products. Also playing a part in this is Microsoft’s strange reluctance to support identity standards that they did not create (SAML for instance). This position does little to endear Microsoft to experts in the identity community.

Yet on the other hand Microsoft identity experts such Kim Cameron, Mike Jones, and (now) Stefan Brands are held in the highest regard in the community. They are known to be strong supporters of openness and interoperability. But the obvious fear is that as honorable as their intentions may be, they are only in a position of influence, not control.

What is a vendor to do?

What you should do is trust that Microsoft, like every other company, will behave in accordance to the law in a way that will increase their profits or market share. To expect any company to do otherwise would be unwise. This may sound obvious, yet I often hear debates in this community that boil down, in essence, whether a companying is being “fair” or not.

That said, I expect Microsoft will make the specification underlying the U-Prove technology freely available for other vendors to use. With the standard restriction that the non-assertion convenant applies only to using the specification for interoperating with U-Prove and other U-Prove compatible technologies. If recent history is an indicator I suspect they will also sponsor interoperability events and give you technical assistance implementing the specifications. I have personally been involved in an such efforts around WS-Federation (pre-OASIS) and Cardspace and the experiencees were very rewarding.

Microsoft won’t renege on any of it’s promises simply because it would not be in their financial best interest. As valuable it is, getting widespread adoption of U-Prove is going to be tough. Microsoft is going to need the participation of other vendors to do it.