Six major tech firms are backing OpenSEA, an effort to build an open-source 802.1X supplicant: 802.1X is port-based access control for networks, whether Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other. The system allows a Wi-Fi access point or an Ethernet switch to have an authentication session with a device that wants to connect without providing any access to that device until authentication is confirmed through back-end, secured means.
802.1X requires a supplicant, or a client package, that handles the authentication process. Microsoft built in a rather difficult-to-configure supplicant into a service pack of XP, and it's part of Vista as well. Mac OS X has featured 802.1X support since version 10.3; it's prettier and easier to use and configure. (A back-end authentication server is also required.
For other platforms or for enterprises that want to configure all their users with a single profile, there are clients available for virtually every desktop and handheld platform from Funk (now part of Juniper) and Meetinghouse (bought by Cisco) which run $25 to $50 or so each depending on platform mix and quantity. Devicescape also has an open-source embedded 802.1X supplicant in its platform.
OpenSEA hopes to achieve two different aims: First, to extend the existing Open1x Xsupplicant effort into an enterprise-class offering with a front-end and Windows support, along with a programmer's interface (API). XSupplicant came into being because of a lack of 802.1X support for GNU/Linux. Second, by turning the supplicant into a potentially cost-free element for IT departments to deploy or other businesses to use--OpenSEA will offer GPL and BSD licenses to facilitate that--they should lower the overall cost to deploy 802.1X while increasing the odds that 802.1X won't be "broken" by Microsoft or others.
Back a few years ago, Cisco and Microsoft were pursuing incompatible flavors of the authentication protocols that run over 802.1X, while Funk, Meetinghouse, and other pursued a third direction. Now, most supplicants and servers simply support all necessary flavors.
The companies behind OpenSEA at its launch are Extreme Networks, Identity Engines, Infoblox, Symantec Corporation, TippingPoint, and Trapeze Networks, along with a UK academic IT consortium, UKERNA Ja.net. The latter three are perhaps better known than the first three. (TippingPoint is a security division of 3Com that pays bounties for zero-day exploits to keep them from entering the wild.) The alliance is looking for more members.
In the enterprise world, the back-end part of the 802.1X ecosystem is simpler because companies typically are already running some kind of directory service and authentication system which can be patched directly into 802.1X. For smaller businesses, Periodik Labs's Elektron server software and DAZ Software's Wi-Fi Login Pro are affordable options, starting at $300 and $200, respectively.