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This chapter is from the book

Presenting Windows CardSpace

At first glance, many of the Identity Metasystem requirements sounded almost utopist. Lucky for us, the WS-* specifications committees already covered many of the issues we had to face, including the toughest ones involving wide industry consensus, and now the Identity Metasystem can benefit from their work. What sheer protocols can't address, however, is the human integration aspect.

The hard-learned lessons from poorly usable systems are captured by the "User Control and Consent" law and, above all, by the "Human Integration" law. Expecting the user to understand WS-MetadataExchange and WS-Trust is possibly even more naïve than expecting the user to be able to assess the identity of a website from its SSL certificate. Having a solid layer of common protocols is a prerequisite for having a consistent experience across contexts. However, the experience must be good to begin with. Here, good stands for all the criteria established by the laws. The user must understand what is going on, he must be aware of his options, he must be able to make decisions in a natural fashion and be confident of the expected outcome, he must be empowered to understand with whom he is dealing with, and so on. In the section "The Dance of Identity—Implemented by WS-*," we described in detail how the two most common scenarios in the Identity Metasystem are implemented via web services. In those sequences, we have seen how all the negotiations and low-level protocol interactions were performed by an agent. The subject examined the data summarized by the agent and directed its behavior for executing the subject's behavior (for example, disclosing a certain claim to a specific RP). The agent decoupled the subject from the complexities of the underlying system, leveraging all the good properties of the protocols for acquiring as much data as possible and presenting information to the subject in the best way for enabling truly informed decisions.

Windows CardSpace is the implementation of that agent on the Windows platform. It enables Windows users to participate in the Identity Metasystem, taking care of the nitty-gritty details of RP and IP communications while presenting to the user an intuitive façade. Some form of user agent is a necessity, imposed by the human-integration requirements of the Identity Metasystem. As long as the traffic generated abides to the open protocols we have seen so far and the UI provides an experience compatible with the identity laws, every platform has the freedom to come up with its own (or even more than one) agent. Apple Macintosh and Novell Linux are examples of non-Windows platform for which a user agent is already available. Although there are no guarantees that the experience will be replicated verbatim on every selector and on every platform, thus far the card metaphor is being consistently used across the various projects.

CardSpace is what allows Windows users to experience situations like the wine seller example in an extremely natural fashion, where having your age verified is as simple as clicking a picture of your driving license on the screen. Where the user experience is just natural gestures and the control that derives from it, the system supplies all the intelligence necessary for probing services for policies or calculating what it takes for obtaining a token from a certain STS. Windows CardSpace is intimately tied to its platform. Whereas the traffic it generates is entirely based on the WS-* open standards we mentioned, and hence virtually indistinguishable from the output of user agents on other platforms, the user experience and operating system integration take full advantage of Windows peculiarities and security features. The experience has been designed for the ground up for abiding by the identity laws.

The remainder of the book is dedicated to exploring how CardSpace puts the user in control of his own destiny, by fully leveraging the possibilities offered by the Identity Metasystem.

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