David Chappell


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Understanding Windows CardSpace  
# Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Do you think digital identity is important? If not, I respectfully suggest that you're wrong. Messy, yes, and in some ways hard to understand--it's a broad topic with lots of diverse aspects--but it's unquestionably important.

I believe that one of the most significant events of the last few years in identity is the advent of information card technologies. Spearheaded by Microsoft's Kim Cameron, this idea is embodied most visibly in Windows CardSpace (although there are other important implementations too, such as Higgins). If you're looking for a short introduction to CardSpace, you might read the overview paper I wrote a couple of years ago.

Even better, get a copy of Understanding Windows CardSpace: An Introduction to the Concepts and Challenges of Digital Identities. This terrific book by Vittorio Bertocci, Garrett Serak, and Caleb Baker is far and away the best introduction I've seen to CardSpace and to much of digital identity in general. The book has been out for a few months now, and while it's gotten great reviews, I don't think it's getting the attention it deserves (because nothing about identity gets the attention it deserves).

Full disclosure: The book is part of Addison-Wesley's Independent Technology Guides series, for which I am series editor. This means that I played a small (really small) part in making this book happen. I'm a huge fan of the technology, however, and of this book. You really ought to read it.

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Cardspace is tightly integrated in .NET and as such it is an very bad application. Ill-behaved at best. We won't even get into the privacy and security problems it raises. The installation of a programming framework with a pre-established tightly integrated, unannounced, silently installed application is just dumber than mud, and demonstrates Microsoft's technical incompentance, and disregard for its users. There is no requirement for this to be bundled with .NET other than Microsoft's self satisfaction.

I wonder what privacy and security problems you're thinking of--just being built with .NET doesn't imply this. Still, building CardSpace on .NET did make it slower to start and bigger to download. This is why the next release, CardSpace "Geneva", is available separately from the .NET Framework.

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