With HailStorm Brewing, AOL Readies 'Magic Carpet'

America Online is quietly rolling out a new unified sign-in service, similar to Microsoft's Passport, across its properties and partner sites. Codenamed "Magic Carpet" and currently promoted as the "Screen Name Service," visitors will be able to sign in with a single click and seamlessly browse sites supporting the new technology. Additionally, the service will be compatible with AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, and CompuServe 2000 accounts.

A clear competitor to Microsoft's fledgling Passport service, which provides authentication for MSN sites as well as a wallet service for "express" purchases, AOL's Magic Carpet could have a direct impact on the software giant's goal to establish a Web services platform.

Currently, Web sites can license Passport from Microsoft allowing their users to sign in with a single account. The company has faced mixed results with the technology, striking deals with few sites to use the universal sign in service. Passport partners include Starbucks and online retailer ComponentSource. Up until now, the only real draw to use Passport has come from browsing Microsoft's own properties.

However, this may change with the impending October release of Windows XP, which upon installation will repeatedly request a user to sign up for a Passport. Microsoft plans to extend this requirement even further with the launch of HailStorm next year. HailStorm is the codename for XML-based .NET services that will revolve around the Passport user authentication system. If a Windows user wishes to utilize the online calendar or messaging system for example, a Passport will be needed.

With HailStorm set for an early 2002 debut, AOL is not wasting any time deploying their competing service. Signs of Magic Carpet have already begun to surface on AOL's servers, with a non-functional sign in page for AOL partner

Just like Passport, Magic Carpet works on a very simple premise - eliminate the need to remember multiple names and passwords while browsing the Web. Using an existing AOL login, a Web site can instantly and securely access all associated visitor information.

Users of other AOL services will also note that the Internet giant has been placing a new "Screen Name" logo on many of its existing properties. In addition, current beta versions of AOL Instant Messenger and AOL 7.0 feature the Screen Name logo, in a move that appears to be preparing members for widespread adoption of the Screen Name branding.

Information on a formal product release date could not be obtained. AOL did not return repeated requests for comment.

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