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The latest version of Internet Explorer is routing mistyped Web addresses through MSN's search engine, in direct contravention of a contract that RealNames (in which Microsoft has a significant stake) has with domain name company XTNS. Or so XTNS claims.

If someone types a misspelled Web address into the browser - or one that doesn't exist - rather that get an error page, that search is run through a company search engine which tries to match up whatever was typed with the actual Web site they are after. So, for example, "tomb.raider" could lead to Eidos' homepage.

All these searches are supposed to be run through XTNS - a Californian company set up five months ago - but in Explorer 6, if the search includes a dot, it is routed through Microsoft's own servers instead. XTNS says this is a breach of contract.

Of course no one is doing this just to be nice. XTNS is hoping to make a fast buck by selling its "domains" which basically consist of a company specifying which Web site someone is referred to if certain words are typed in. They pay for the privilege.

Since this is little more than a controlling corporate Internet rip-off, we have very little sympathy for the company. Since it is also completely dictated by money, companies can get their hands on a range of "domains" that may include competitors' products or generic words. XTNS' service only went live this August but already it has had to refund a number of companies who haven't got what they paid for.

We are going to come out in support of Microsoft this time. No matter what you think of the company, it gets things done.

If it does decide to override XTNS, it seems unlikely that it will charge like XTNS does now (think of the bad press if it tried). It will also end up making the system far more wide-ranging than XTNS, so that all names, not just paid-for names, will "work". ®

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