VeriSign solves multilingual name dilemma

Just days before RealNames Corp.'s keyword system will cease operations, VeriSign Global Registry Services has released its own free software plug-in as an alternative for resolving the 1 million non-English language domain names sold to date.

For the past year, VeriSign used RealNames' keyword service to resolve queries for domain names in such complex languages as Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. However, RealNames is planning to shut down its keyword system on June 28 because the company is closing and its assets are being liquidated.

VeriSign on Monday announced the immediate availability of its LangResolve plug-in software. VeriSign officials say the plug-in takes only a few seconds to install, after which it automatically handles foreign-language domain name resolution.

VeriSign must offer a resolution service like LangResolve because the Internet's Domain Name System was designed to support English-language ASCII characters. Therefore, domain names in other languages must be encoded in ASCII for transmission across the DNS or they won't work. Today's browsers don't handle that encoding, so a browser plug-in is required.

Under development for seven months, LangResolve offers several advantages over the RealNames service, according to VeriSign officials:

-- It eliminates long and confusing ASCII character strings in the browser address bar for users that enter non-English language domain names. Instead, LangResolve retains native script for these domain names.

-- It supports embedded HTML links and native language bookmarks.

-- A companion plug-in, called LangMail, will support multilingual e-mail addresses when it is released in July. Like LangResolve, LangMail preserves native script when sending and receiving e-mail.

"We designed the system from a Web developer's point of view, so the Web developer develops in HTML and modifies in HTML, and all the underlying encoding happens automatically," says Don Telage, senior vice president for internationalized domain names at VeriSign Global Registry Services.

"The average user will say that this works great in my native language," Telage adds. "But the real pearl here is... for the Web developers."

VeriSign officials say the LangResolve and LangMail software plug-ins support a family of protocols for resolving internationalized domain names that are being finalized by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

LangResolve supports only Microsoft's Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and 6.0. LangMail will support only Outlook, but a future version will support Outlook Express. VeriSign will make tools available to corporations that want to download many copies of the plug-ins for their employees, officials say.

Introduced by VeriSign in November 2000, non-English-language domain names have not sold at a rapid pace since the initial gold rush period. Few companies are using these names to point to active Web sites because end users have lacked a simple way of resolving these names.

LangResolve represents VeriSign's third attempt at improving the resolution of its foreign-language domain names in the hope of selling more names. VeriSign initially offered downloadable software plug-ins from two small start-ups: International and Walid.

VeriSign replaced these plug-ins with the RealNames keyword service a year ago. At the time, VeriSign said the RealNames keyword service would provide easy resolution because it was built into Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. However, RealNames closed shop in May after Microsoft chose not to renew its contract with RealNames.

VeriSign officials admit their LangResolve and LangMail plug-ins are interim solutions until Microsoft adds support for internationalized domain names in its browser and e-mail packages.

"It's not going to be in the Microsoft browser for years," Telage predicts. "This is an interim solution, but it's a damn good interim solution."

VeriSign's initial push with LangResolve and LangMail is on the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets, which represent 80 percent of the non-English language domain names sold to date. VeriSign offers domain names in 350 languages altogether.

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