My employer’s announcement, with IBM et al, of Higgins is of course very cool. While it got played up in the press as a rival to Microsoft’s InfoCard, fortunately that spin has been ably and thoroughly debunked.
Everyone describes Kim Cameron as someone wanting to do what’s right for all of us, not just for Microsoft, and I’m sure that’s true. I can’t help, though, but look at it from Ballmer’s or Gates’ perspective…why interoperate with another OS vendor? Why not keep it all closed, distribute InfoCard with Vista, and take over the identity layer of web 2.0?
I think it’s because Microsoft execs understand that their world is changing.
The desktop OS market has long been a natural monopoly, similar to power distribution, water and sewage, and (until a few years ago) telephones. Just as there is a great dis-economy to having two power grids, two sets of water and sewage mains or two telephone lines into your house, there has been a huge dis-economy to having two desktop operating systems. Regardless of any technical merit, the world largely settled on DOS and Windows as the common desktop platform because, at least for the enterprise customer, it was too expensive not to conform. And of course Microsoft has succeeded by leveraging the natural monopoly in the operating system market into adjacent markets, themselves often a natural monopoly as well.
But as software moves from the desktop to the internet, the desktop will no longer be a natural monopoly. Users don’t have to run the same desktop OS to access SOA software on the web. Software developers don’t have to develop for a specific desktop platform — they can just develop for the web. The dis-economies of multiple desktop OSs is disappearing, thanks to open standards and SOA.
Regardless of what some may think of Ballmer and Gates, they understand the world as well as the rest of us. I suspect they’ve played out this scenario and have concluded that closing InfoCard off will not result in yet another Microsoft-dominated natural monopoly, but instead, a marginalized Microsoft. Since InfoCard couldn’t possibly achieve complete ubiquity as the sole identity provider, keeping InfoCard closed would result in Passport The Next Generation.