Signing into Windows Live with CardSpace

Roger Jennings shares his frustration that after nearly two years in beta, Information Card management for Windows Live still does not work reliably.

I’ve tried this before, but since switching to 64-bit Vista I’ve not used CardSpace. I had another look.

My first experience was poor. I headed to the card management page, entered the details of a Live ID, and clicked Change. Internet Explorer appeared to hang. I then tried to open CardSpace in Control Panel, but it gave me an error message. I looked in the event log and found a series of event 269 errors, with the message:

The Windows CardSpace service is too busy to process this request.  User has too many outstanding requests.

along with a .NET stack trace.

Undeterred, I rebooted and tried again. I took the precaution of adding a card to CardSpace before visting the sign-up page. Everything worked, and I associated a new card with my Live ID.

Here’s how it works now. Let’s say I’m not logged in and I try to visit a Live property such as SkyDrive, my favourite:

I get redirected to the Live sign-in page, where I can choose between password and information card in a drop-down menu:

I still have to type my email address. I’m not sure why that’s necessary, since the email address is also on the card. Still, I go ahead and then get to select a card. The dialog appears on the secure desktop, always a slightly jarring experience. I choose the one associated with Windows Live, which happens to be the only card I have:

Shortly after, I’m in:

Did I gain anything over typing the password? In terms of user experience, not really. Still, I never typed my password, which means it could not be phished. Even if I attempted to send my self-issued card to a fake site, it still would not be any use to the phishing site. If I could use the same card for multiple sites, and had cards from trusted third-party identity providers, then I would begin to benefit further. This paper from 2006 – three years ago – has more information.

Whenever I’ve researched CardSpace or talked to its champion Kim Cameron I’ve been impressed. It’s tough for journalists though, since the system is hard to explain in a few words, and few people understand it. It is even harder because Microsoft has done so little to promote it. Further, if both Jennings and myself had problems using it, that does not say much for the reliability of the client. Since rebooting my PC fixed it, it suggests the problems may not be at the Live.com end, but it is hard to tell. Overall, an opportunity squandered.

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