July 20, 2001

Nareau: Open Source P2P project that helps us talk to each other

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Since we first reported on a couple of high-profile alternatives to parts of Microsoft's .Net initiative, more Open Source/Free Software projects have come out of the woodwork.

This week's LWN Weekly Edition details three other projects, including Piper, a peer-to-peer distributed workflow system.

One quiet project that has big goals is the Nareau project, which the site describes as "an Internet wide, peer-peer platform aimed at facilitating conversations and writing, automating and streamlining tasks, and at gaining control of one's computing experience."

The project's front page eloquently describes the high-level vision for Nareau. "We play out our lives in different 'Spaces', doing different projects, enjoying different hobbies and
interests. We collaborate with others at work and at home. We spend time with friends and family. We move in different circles.

"We spend a large fraction of our time on computers, store and search for information on them, virtually converse with people we know (and don't know). We email each other, we schedule meetings, we chat, we flirt. When we are not at a computer, we still want to access our stocks, update our calendars, and stay in touch, no matter where we are ...

"But we still have to deal with clunky computers, applications that don't interoperate, operating systems that crash and expect us to adapt to them. Our applications force us to do busywork repeatedly, are not customizable in meaningful ways, and have no ability to understand meaning from our interactions with them. We still need programmers to write applications and implement processes for us; software has not developed to the stage where we can put Lego blocks together as we need. And so, instead of working
smarter, we are working harder, leaving us with less time to talk, and play, and think, both online and offline."

Project founder Rahul Dave uses words like the "Cloudserver," an Apache and Jabber server with an authentication and authorization component, and the "Nareau Spacestation," a Cloudserver with a Mozilla-based user interface, to describe the central pieces of the project. Checking out the project specs is a good place to get started.

Last year, Dave and friends started a company called Touva to create a Kerberos and authentication-based identity management system. "We folded with some trials, as there is no funding
for three unknown developers from Philly," Dave says. "But we are going to use that
experience in this project."

The crew created a group of Web services called Sunshine, which includes a one-size-doesn't-fit-all identity management system. "Its
crux is also identity management, with Kerberos, and strong authentication
where required," Dave says. "We are also implementing proxy authentication, consider
the situation where you want your Spacestation or Cloudserver to talk
to a calendar Web service on behalf of your instant messenger.
You need to give then a temporary or permanent proxy capability ...

"The big difference with [Microsoft's] Passport is that in this scenario, each user
will have an identity server on their desktop. This is a peer-peer system.
This means that users can control access to their objects, their
publishing, their spaces amongst a workgroup with no central intervention, as long
as they are willing to accept proof of identity from their co-workers.
The point here is, identity is not one size fits all, if you are
collaborating outside your company or transacting commerce you might want a more
verisign like PKI identity, or company credential, but in a small workgroup you
don't care. So this is a way more realistic system in terms of being
used in a ubiquitous way."

Nareau's identity management system will also allow users to manage multiple identities, Dave says. "It should be patently clear that any one person is likely to want more than one," he adds. "One at home, one with ISP, one with bank, one at work, one for porn. :-) Some users may even want an identity per device. The bank identity would need to be strongly authenticated, the porn one pseudonymous. Now, if you don't give a user a tool to seamlessly manage these identities, forget it. So that's the next unique part ..."

Also unique to Nareau, compared to Microsoft's .Net, Dave says, is Nareau's "rules" and "glue," the way different Web services provided by more companies than just Microsoft talk and work together.

"Consider a calendar interface, defined using an XML schema," Dave says. "Different methods in this interface may actually be Web services at different providers, or even
local Java classes, or local apps communicating as nodes with the Spacestation ..."

The Nareau project is still in early development, but Dave hopes to demo a prototype, with a calendar interface and a calendar Web service, and release the first version of the Cloudserver, with no Spacestation, in mid-October, and he plans to demonstrate part of the project at JabberCon in August. There's a project development page, where developers are invited to join the project.

The project will be Open Source, with parts of it GPL, parts LGPL, and parts Mozilla Public License, Dave says. With a private, cross-platform model, Nareau will be superior to Microsoft's Hailstorm/Passport initiatives, he adds.

"Hailstorm services are well thought out, and they have good mechanisms
for performance," he says. "But Microsoft has a poor track record on security, and monopolistic practices, and I don't trust them hosting anything. It's better that multiple people host."


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