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Call it co-incidence or call it necessity, but Microsoft has jumped on-board a Yahoo!-backed initiative to give internet users a single digital identity.

Microsoft is joining systems and internet rivals IBM and Google by becoming a full corporate board member of the OpenID Foundation. Also signing up are VeriSign and Yahoo!, the latter last month pledging its support for OpenID from the end of the month.

Corporate-level membership of the OpenID Foundation comes just a week after Microsoft launched its hostile $45bn takeover bid for Yahoo!. Yahoo! has some 400 million internet users with accounts spanning such diverse properties as email, Flickr, Delicious and financial information.

Microsoft's backing comes in the wake of its failure in recent years to persuade the industry to rally behind its own single sign-on initiative, the centralized Passport system, used only by Microsoft and a relative handful of partners.

In the past, Microsoft has chosen to go its own way on internet standards and dragged partners along with it, notably with the formation of the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) organization and the resulting WS-* specifications.

The Open ID Foundation's goal is to roll-out an open online identity framework that eliminates the need for users to create and remember multiple identities and passwords for different web sites. More than 10,000 web sites currently support OpenID log ins.

Until now, Microsoft had been only affiliated with OpenID - although chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie last year pledged to integrate OpenID with its CardSpace system in Windows Vista.

In a statement, Microsoft said it was looking forward to working with the community refining and driving adoption of OpenID. "The OpenID community is a key constituency in solving the digital identity problems internet users face," chief identity architect Kim Cameron said in a prepared statement.®

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