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No go-ahead stamp for Microsoft's Passport

Ambitious online identification program scaled back

Microsoft is recasting ambitions for its .Net Passport identification system, saying the service now will be limited to its own online offerings and those of close partners. Microsoft no longer sees Passport as a single sign-on system for the web at large, a spokesperson said.

Microsoft's repositioning of .Net Passport comes as the website Monster.com said it was dropping support of the authentication service. Monster, a career-development site, was one of Microsoft's banner Passport users.

Once a key part of its hosted services strategy, Microsoft has been quiet about Passport in the past few years and has not done any significant development work on the system. Instead, the company has been quietly scaling back several of Passport's components. A directory of sites that support the service was removed this year, and in March 2003, a payments feature was axed.

Passport is clearly not all Microsoft made it out to be. In 1999, the company envisioned thousands of online stores and other services using Passport, allowing users to sign on using the same username and password combination used for Microsoft services.

But the reality turned out different, as website operators balked at the idea of having Microsoft control access to their sites. Aside from Microsoft-owned sites, only a few dozen others signed on to Passport.

Microsoft has "learned a lot" over the past few years from working with partners and customers using Passport and has adjusted its ambitions for Passport accordingly, said Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN at Microsoft.

"Going forward, the mission of the Microsoft Passport service will be to provide authentication services to Microsoft services and products and to Microsoft partners," she said on Tuesday.

Cutting Passport ambitions is part of Microsoft returning to its software roots, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Washington analysis firm that tracks Microsoft. "Microsoft's interest in hosted services has decreased since 2001. The company's focus has returned to software, which is where it belongs," he said.

In 2001 Microsoft announced that eBay and TMP Worldwide's Monster.com would adopt Passport, two of only a handful of big-name companies Microsoft was able to sell on Passport. Monster.com is cutting Passport this week, while eBay continues to support the technology although it is hardly used, spokesmen for both companies said.

"Based on the adoption rates of Passport, which represented a low percentage of Monster users worldwide, a decision was made to make the most effective use of resources within Monster" and end support for Passport, said Monster spokesman Kevin Mullins.

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