Bill Gates did the opening keynote address at RSA today, and Ina Fried and Joris Evers from CNET had their story out within an amazing fourty-two minutes. How can they do that?

Bill made it clear that he really cares about privacy and security, just as he is committed to helping build an identity metasystem that moves the industry to the next stage of collaboration and reach.

SAN JOSE, Calif.–For years, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has had his sights set on the password as the weak link in the computer security chain.

Now, with Windows Vista, Gates feels he finally has the right weapons to supplant the password as a means of verifying who is who on computers and over the Internet.

The new operating system, due later this year, introduces a concept called InfoCards that gives users a better way to manage the plethora of Internet login names and passwords as well as lets third parties help in the verification process. Vista will also make it easier to log on to PCs using something stronger than a password alone, such as a smart card.

“We're laying the foundation for what we need,” Gates said in a speech at the RSA Conference 2006 here.

Even with the advancements, Gates said he wasn't naive enough to think the password would go away overnight.

“I don't pretend that we are going to move away from passwords overnight, but over three or four years for corporate systems this change can and should happen,” he said.

Microsoft has described InfoCard as a technology that gives users a single place to manage various authentication and payment information, in the same way that a wallet holds multiple credit cards.

InfoCard is Microsoft's second try at an authentication technology after its largely failed Passport single sign-on service unveiled in 1999.

InfoCard attempts to address the complaint many critics had with Passport, which was that people's information was managed by Microsoft instead of by the users themselves and the businesses they dealt with.

Although Microsoft has talked previously about InfoCard and early versions of the InfoCard code were released to developers last year, Gates’ speech marked one of the first times Microsoft has demonstrated publicly just how it might work.

In a demonstration, Microsoft showed how a consumer could use a self-generated InfoCard to log in to a car rental site and then use a separate InfoCard from a membership group to get a discount on the rental.

Microsoft acknowledged that replacing passwords is something that needs to be done at the system level, but Gates said the company is also working on technologies to enable various identity systems used on the Internet to work together, something it calls the Identity Metasystem.

Gates also touted several of the other security capabilities that will be part of Windows Vista. In a demo, Microsoft showed its anti-spyware technology as well as a new mode that runs Internet Explorer in its own “sandbox” so that Internet code can't cross over into the rest of a PC.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.

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