Enterprise Software

Technology first look: Novell's DigitalMe

Are you tired of filling out endless Web forms to access sites? DigitalMe lets you store your information in one secure place, so you only have to update it in one place!


If you use the Internet a lot, you know how tedious it is to fill in Web forms again and again. And as you fill out these forms to gain access to sites, you may have to give out information that your company would rather keep private. After you have visited all these sites, suppose something about your identify changes—your e-mail address, phone number, or address. Now you’ll have to visit all these sites, remember which information you gave to which site, and update the information that has changed. If you’re really lucky, in your spare time you might actually get some work done. This is where Novell’s DigitalMe concept, first announced at Novell’s Brainshare conference this year, comes into the picture. In this article, we’ll show you what you can expect to see at the proof-of-concept site and what you can expect to see in the coming months.

The story behind DigitalMe
Leveraging the power in Novell’s Directory Service (NDS), users can now gain some control over the information released about them to third parties. DigitalMe lets you store your information in one secure place. When the need arises, you have to update information in just that one place.

Novell is using standard off-the-shelf technology to drive DigitalMe. No special software is required at the client side—only the latest available browser. The browser needs to support SSL and JavaScript. Having the newest browser will ensure that everything will run correctly at the client side. All of the major network operating systems are supported—NetWare, Windows NT, Solaris, and Linux. This means that you’ll have your choice of platforms on which to use the DigitalMe service. Since the DigitalMe service is based on Novell’s NDS, you will automatically receive the benefits of RSA Security and support for PKIS (Public Key Infrastructure Service). PKIS handles the public-private key encryption and the digital certificate(s), which will help ensure the authenticity of the user.

The foundation of DigitalMe is the “meCard.” The user creates different cards, then specifies the information that each card will contain and the level of privacy associated with each card. A personal-level card could include your home phone number, home e-mail address, and personal cell phone number. A business meCard could have your office phone number, business e-mail address, and business shipping address. At this time, you can create as many meCards as you want. When something changes about your “Digital Persona,” you have to change the information only once, not with every company that holds a piece of your identity.

One concept thrown out for thought at Novell’s Brainshare conference was that, at some point in the future, a disinterested third party (someone who has nothing to gain financially by how much you do or don’t purchase or use the system) would be the keeper of your meCards. Say, for example, you want to purchase a book from one of the online booksellers. You go through the process of purchasing the book, and the online bookseller contacts the holder of your DigitalMe information for the appropriate billing information. Then, either the information is provided to the bookseller over a secure link, or the bookseller is told that the funds are approved and the holder of your DigitalMe information bills your credit card without ever releasing the information to a third party.

Getting immersed in DigitalMe
Learning more about DigitalMe starts with a visit to its Web site . After you’ve looked at the information providing the basis for DigitalMe, click the Join option on the toolbar at the top of your Web browser screen. The first choice you will make is selecting a “skin,” or background, for your meCard. After selecting your skin, you will begin building your digital identity. You will specify your DigitalMe login ID, password, and a secret question that will help you remember what your password is, in case you forget it.

In this release of DigitalMe, you are limited to six different skins or backgrounds. Novell showed flexibility beyond that at Brainshare 1999, so you can expect to have almost any background you want in the coming months.

Once you’ve finished creating your basic DigitalMe persona, you will be dropped into the DigitalMe control center. In the current version of DigitalMe, the control center isn’t very intuitive. The first thing you should do is click the My Info button. Then, you can fill in additional information as it relates to the personal and business sides of your identity. You can enter information in four areas: personal, home, business, and other. The screens look blank until you click the Change Info button under each tab, enter the information requested by one or more of the data fields, and then click the Update Info button. When the screen refreshes, you will see the information you just entered and none of the lines you left blank.

The next stop on your journey will be the Contacts tab. This is where you choose to send your card to other users registered on the site. Since there can be too much of a good thing, you can also decline cards from others. At any time, you can change who sees which card.

Where is the technology heading?
The DigitalMe technology is very much in its early stages. From what I’ve seen displayed at Novell presentations, your imagination will be the eventual limit. One exciting possibility is the exploitation of DigitalMe technology by portable devices. While the Palm V implementation is currently under development, it is realistic to expect that cell phones from companies such as Nokia may follow in the near future. As the technology continues to develop, you’ll see additional articles on the subject showing you how the technology can be used. The power of DigitalMe will not be limited to those running Novell networks. Novell is approaching this from a standpoint of what will benefit everyone in the long term. This will be a win-win for everyone concerned.

Ronald Nutter is a senior systems engineer in Lexington, KY. He's an MCSE, Novell Master CNE, and Compaq ASE. Ron has worked with networks ranging in size from single servers to multiserver/multi-OS setups, including NetWare, Windows NT, AS/400, 3090, and UNIX. He's also the help desk editor for Network World. If you’d like to contact Ron, send him ane-mail . (Because of the large volume of e-mail that he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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