Mac Scope

Exploiting Hailstorm

Stephen Van Esch - 2001.04.04

Microsoft recently announced it's Hailstorm initiative. In a nutshell, Hailstorm is a storage system for the personal information of its users.

That in itself is not a real big deal. Yahoo, Hotmail, and any number of other companies offer calendar, notepad, and address book services. Some companies, even offer application suites that can be used over the web.

However, because Microsoft is slowly but surely extending its control over the Windows desktop, Hailstorm, coupled with their Passport service could mean a fairly large breach of a Windows user's personal security.

In another nutshell, Passport allows Microsoft to track you as you cruise the Web. After you sign in with Passport, Passport watches you as you go from Passport site to Passport site and communicates your surfing habits back to the Passport server. While Passport is currently restricted to the sites that use it, that number is growing all the time. Passport, of course, is not restricted to Windows user. We Mac lovers can sign up for Passport if we want.

Ostensibly, this is a service that many users would love to have. I currently have different passwords and logins for many different sites. A single piece of software that manages all those identities would greatly simplify my surfing and online shopping.

The problem is that Microsoft can quite easily build a fantastic profile of Passport and Hailstorm users. Your information would essentially belong to Microsoft, because it resides on their servers. Even now, if you have a Passport account, when you click "I agree" to the Passport services you are agreeing to let Microsoft do what they want with your information. This includes using, modifying, copying and distributing the information you post, upload or input. Don't believe me? It's all in the Microsoft Passport Terms of Use. Yep, right there under "LICENSE TO MICROSOFT".

With Hailstorm, Passport, and .NET neatly tying all the MS user's information into one controlled location you've got to wonder what users are thinking.

Where does Apple fit into all of this?

Well, with a brand new, fantastically stable and robust operating system, Apple could easily capitalize on the uneasiness of the Windows user. Full integration of Hailstorm, .NET, Passport, and Windows XP can't be far down the road. If MS has its way, I'm sure that you won't be able to buy XP without taking on all the other "services." In a worst case scenario, Windows users will be signing over full control of all of their personal information to a large, faceless corporation just to use Windows software.

This is, of course, an opportunity for Apple. If they can position themselves as the operating system of choice for users who want to maintain control of their personal information, I suspect that a fair number of users would make the switch. If given a choice between handing Microsoft the keys to their personal information or learning a new and improved Mac OS, new users would likely flock to Apple.

Apple already provides a keychain to manage passwords on your Mac. Apple has also already gone through the backlash of a user license that was a little too biased toward the corporation. Remember the iDisk brouhaha?

While people are getting more and more comfortable sharing their personal information, it looks like Microsoft may be stepping over the line. Apple should be waiting on the other side of the fence with open arms.

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