The Passport Payment


On December 24, 1999, I tried to check my Hotmail email and found that there was a problem. Basically, addresses were, according to my browser, nonexistent, which made Hotmail unavailable (Hotmail uses for authentication). Thinking Microsoft was just experiencing some nameserver problems, I moved on without giving it much thought.


The next day, Christmas, I was reading the news on Slashdot and noticed a story about Hotmail being down. I read through the discussion area for that story and found that the problem had been tracked down to an outstanding invoice for at Network Solutions, the domain name registrar.

I own a number of domains myself, including, so I'm no stranger to the payment system at Network Solutions. I went to the payment page at and typed in "", after which I was greeted with a page showing the outstanding invoice for $35. One of the buttons near the bottom of the page was "Make payment", so I pressed it.

I was presented with a payment form, and I filled it out, including my credit card number. Then I did something else for a few minutes, leaving that completed form on my desktop. Finally, I brought it back to the foreground and contemplated the whole situation. I really couldn't think of any negative consequences, and I knew that I was probably restoring email service to a lot of Hotmail users (I thought there were a few million at the time, turns out there are more than 20 million users with around 55 million email addresses). And I knew that if I didn't press that button, for whatever reason, I'd regret it.

So I pressed it. When the receipt page came up, I posted it on Slashdot, along with the statement "Merry Christmas, Microsoft". This was around 11AM.

At 5:00PM that day, I received a call from a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, but Hotmail still wasn't working, and I didn't think that addresses would be available until the next morning at 5:00AM. At midnight, I checked before going to bed and was unavailable. My son had us up at 6:00AM the next morning, so I looked and and was again available.

Although I was certain the payment was the fix, I couldn't know for certain until I'd heard from Microsoft or Network Solutions. On Tuesday, December 28 I heard from Microsoft. I was happy to hear that the payment did fix Passport, and of course they wanted to reimburse me, and thank me.

On January 15, 2000, I received the check from Microsoft for $500, in addition to a new copy of Visual Studio 6.0 (which I need to compile and run the decss program to decode my DVD's so that I can play them under Linux). I put the check up on ebay to raise money for charity.

Latest news is: as of January 27, 2000, at 11:37 CST, the auction is finished, and the check goes to John at Northern Development Group. He plans on giving the money to the Sisters of the Road Cafe, a Portland, Oregon charity which provides meals to poor and homeless people. Pretty cool!

I'd like to also add one more comment about this situation. The Slashdot story was posted originally at 9:07AM on Sunday morning, and by 10:58AM (1 hour 51 minutes) it was fixed. According to Microsoft, they had known about the problem the day before, and working with Network Solutions, their technicians were unable to determine the cause before we did. There's no better way to say it, folks, this is a better way to write and debug software.

More Information

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About Passport

Information supplied by Microsoft

Check out for a complete list of sites which allow the Passport wallet to be used for purchases. These sites do not use the Passport authentication (Single sign-in) service and were not seriously affected by the temporary outage (purchases could still buy using that sites proprietary purchase mechanism). Note that only the Microsoft sites listed on use the Passport single sign-in service today. Microsoft plans to make the single sign-in service available to third parties this spring.

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