Software

What's going on with X.org? Desktop software body could lose domain

Future of one of the world's rarest web names under question

Shouting match

This time next week, one of the internet's rarest domains – the single-letter X.org – is up for renewal.

The multi-million-dollar address is home to a foundation that develops widely used GUI display software for Linux and Unix-flavored desktops. Now it faces an uncertain future.

The foundation's board of directors entered into an ownership struggle over the domain, having noticed just a few months ago that it was due to expire on January 19, but its registration rests with an old board member who declined to simply hand it over.

At a board meeting last week, secretary Daniel Vetter announced that the foundation had failed to reach a resolution, noting that the problem lies in the fact that the company the domain is registered to no longer exists.

X.org is registered to the X.org Foundation, LLC, and lists the personal email and address of the foundation's founder Leon Shiman as the domain's contact point.

But some years ago, the X.org Foundation LLC was reconstituted as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. In a sign that the foundation is not the most well managed, it appears that no legal document was signed transferring rights over to the new organization. Adding to the problem, the X.org Foundation also lost its non-profit status in 2013 after the third year of filing late tax returns. It later regained its status.

With Mr Shiman apparently refusing to hand the domain over, the foundation has to demonstrate a legal trail from the old limited company to the current non-profit foundation in order to go to the .org registry, Public Interest Registry, and force the transfer of its name.

Rare

X.org is one of just seven single-letter domains that exist under the "big three" internet registries of .com, .org and .net. Some single-letter domains exist in so-called country-code top-level domains, which are run by individual countries, but current rules ban their registration under any of the 500+ new generic top-level domains.

The issue of one and two-letter domains is also a hot topic at domain name system overseer ICANN, with the world's governments trying to restrict their use entirely by claiming that two-letter codes should remain solely under their purview, thanks to the ISO-3166 standard.

Owners of hundreds of new internet registries are unhappy with that approach, since domain names such as 'uk.food' or 'us.yoga' are potentially worth millions of dollars to them.

The seven existing single-letter domains are i.net, q.com, q.net, x.com, x.org, z.com and w.org. To give you an idea of their worth, the domain z.com was sold for $6.8m (£4.3m, 800m yen) in 2014.

Despite its value, Mr Shiman's reluctance to hand over the domain is thought to be more over concerns with the foundation's direction than profiting personally.

We reached Mr Shiman by phone. He said he did not wish to discuss the issues surrounding the domain but he did state that the foundation – which is named after the X.org domain – would not lose use of the domain.

We have also reached out to the X.org Foundation but have yet to hear back. ®

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