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RealNames shutdown threatens Asian naming market

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The closure of RealNames Corp yesterday threatens the ability of Chinese and Japanese speakers to easily address web sites in their own languages. Microsoft Corp's Asian units are said to be under pressure from local naming authorities to urge their parent to reconsider its position on RealNames' closure.

RealNames said yesterday it is going out of business because Microsoft Corp will no longer give it the ability to offer its keyword addressing system through the address bar of Internet Explorer (see separate story). It is a little-known fact that RealNames' systems are also used to resolve so-called internationalized domain names or IDNs.

IDNs are domain names registered in non-ASCII characters, including Asian and some European characters. Because the domain name system is ASCII-based, these names will not resolve into IP addresses when used in a browser or other internet application.

But the software in RealNames' network of resolvers is based on Unicode, which allows characters in all languages to be represented, and so the company has been resolving IDNs for partner companies for about a year. All .com, .org and .net IDNs use RealNames, as do Japanese .jp names and the China-run CNS keyword system.

RealNames CEO Keith Teare said the end of the Microsoft contract and the company is "detrimental to the whole ecosystem we've built up around the world", including its dozens of international resellers. He said he was aware of moves in China and Japan to approach Microsoft's local offices to ask the company to reconsider scrapping the deal.

VeriSign spokesperson Cheryl Regan said: "With RealNames going out of business there will be an impact" on IDN resolution. She said that RealNames' network will continue to resolve IDNs through IE until June 29, and that VeriSign is seeking a "long term solution". There are several hundred thousand IDNs registered in .com.

Under a deal signed with Japan Registry Service Co Ltd (JPRS) last year, RealNames provides the resolution of all Japanese-character domain names under the .jp country-code top-level domain. With RealNames out of business, JPRS is going to have to find a new way to allow Japanese users to access .jp names come July.

Furthermore, a keyword-based naming system employed by CNNIC, the government-controlled domain registry of China, uses RealNames' resolvers, and much of its technology. This will also no longer work after the end of June. CNNIC and JPRS could not be reached for comment by press time yesterday.

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