Archive for Monday, April 23, 2001

Internet domain names go global

While foreign scripts may be registered, they may not yet work

April 23, 2001

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— The wait is over if you want an Internet address in Hebrew, Arabic or Thai.

You can even begin that address with a symbol like a smiley face, Zodiac sign or a copyright circle.

VeriSign Inc., the master-keeper of domain names ending in ".com," ".net" and ".org," began taking orders Thursday for hundreds of symbols and nearly two dozen language scripts from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

They join European and other Asian languages that became available over the past several months.

A word of caution, though: Just because you can get a non-English address doesn't mean you can run a Web site right away. And it's all part of a test, which means your names might never work.

Still, these early ventures toward a truly multilingual Internet could well boost online usage abroad, where tens of thousands of impatient users have already ignored the strictures of the U.S.-based body that oversees online addresses.

Most computers sold abroad have built-in capabilities for non-English characters. Web surfers with keyboards set for English will need to obtain character sets for other languages and modify their computer settings.

Many Internet engineers are worried, saying VeriSign is proceeding before the Internet Engineering Task Force approves standards.

"It's in the community's best interest to develop a standard," said Robert Gardos, chief technology officer for Register.com. "It leads to less problems."

Nevertheless, Register is taking name registrations on VeriSign's behalf, arguing that its competitors are also doing so.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the oversight body for online addresses, is to complete a technical study by June on potential problems introducing multiple languages to a mega-network based on English.

The core computers that handle online addresses currently understand only the 26 English letters, 10 numerals and a hyphen, along with a period for splitting addresses into sections.

Other languages must be translated into a string of characters. How to do that smoothly is what's in question.

Already, more than 800,000 non-English names have been claimed. Demand has been highest for names with Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters, available since November.

One of the remaining hurdles is making the names work.

Within the next several weeks, VeriSign will begin letting sites use the foreign characters, followed by ".mltbd.com," or multilingual testbed. It's a way to segregate those names in case of problems.

Full resolution foreign characters followed only by ".com" won't be available for months, and even then it will be subject to change until engineering standards are finalized.

Ultimately, application developers will have to adapt their Web browsers and other Net tools.

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