Identity management has taken centre stage in light of Sun and Microsoft's porcupine lovefest last week. During this "customer event", Steve Ballmer and Scott McNealy got up on stage together to announce a series of interoperability initiatives.
The announcement that got me reaching for my precious cache of Advil Migraine (why aren't they selling these little orange drops of relief anymore?) was that the two were working on a browser-based single sign-on architecture across their two identity management architectures.
The two companies map out the communication protocol between Sun's Liberty Architecture and Microsoft's WS (Web services) architecture in two draft documents, excitingly dubbed " The Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange Protocol" and " Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile", if you feel like chewing through them.
Microsoft also announced what it counts as progress in its rather Byzantine licensing schemes.
The news, however, really isn't that revolutionary. For the most part, Redmond has done some editing work, especially on its enterprise volume-licensing agreements. That document went from about 100 pages to a mere pamphlet of 44 pages. Wow. Redmond also has reorganized the products affected by volume licensing from about 70 separate products to nine product categories that cover all 70 product lines. Wow again.
Frankly, I think Microsoft is going to have to get a whole lot more radical than this in the relatively near future, especially if it's going to keep holding hands with Sun. See, McNealy's out there pushing hard the concept of utility computing, and Microsoft has all but admitted that it views utility computing as just another distribution medium. All well and good, except that the utility model of distribution doesn't lend itself at all to enterprise volume-licensing schemes.
Customers aren't going to want to pay for a full licence when all they're doing is paying for software on a per-use model, for instance. That's one of the hidden beauties of the utility model: unless Microsoft wants to get into the hardware business in a big way, it's going to draw the company into much closer relationships with folks such as Sun. Or IBM. Or Hewlett-Packard. Or some other hungry utility-computing resource provider. And that means friendlier and more flexible licensing schemes -- among a whole host of other things.