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Updated In one of the year's least surprising announcements, AOL has confirmed that it will join the "it's-not-Passport" coalition, the Liberty Alliance.

AOL will continue to develop its own "Magic Carpet" authentication services and make both Magic Carpert and the existing AOL client compatible with the Liberty spec. Whatever that might be - it's still very early days.

At the launch of the Alliance and ever since, Sun has hinted that AOL would join, but in its own sweet time.

AOL delivers a significant number of eyeballs, but the news doesn't have the seismic reverberations it might have had a couple of years ago. Back then, at the height of tulip mania, AOL was expanding into web appliances. The promise was that these Linux-based devices would deliver unto e-commerce vendors the grey and impoverished masses who don't own a PC. And that's still about half the population of the West. But the web appliance business died before making an impact.

No, the real kingmaker here is Nokia, and at the time of the first Alliance announcement we noted that despite the absence of Sun's heavyweight server rivals HP and IBM, the Liberty Alliance had scored a significant coup in persuading the major wireless carriers and handset manufacturers to join. It may take some time for phones to reach the number of transactions generated on desktop PCs, where Microsoft and its Passport sign-on have the advantage, but that day will surely come, and probably this decade.

Now Nokia, like AOL, has been thinking about authentication for some time too. In fact the Nokia's OMA, Open Mobile Architecture, platform provides two suites of source code: one for simple monochrome handsets; and one, Series 60, for posher Symbian smartphones. Both suites include authentication software. OMA also covers back-end software for carriers. If Nokia can make OMA and its own Club Nokia 'notaportal' portal Liberty-compatible, then the Alliance could become the default single-sign-on for the majority of the world's mobile phones.

In a statement this morning, Nokia confirmed that it joined Liberty specifically "in order to utilise it as the authentication dimension in our our architecture ... Liberty Alliance is the framework we want to bring [authentication] forward".

As yet Nokia has yet to announce its first licensee for OMA, although Matsushita is "examining" it. ®

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