Industry consortium pushes for use of global domain namesIn Minneapolis last month, VeriSign hosted the first meeting of a new industry consortium that will promote the use of internationalized domain names in popular software applications.Internationalization of the Internet's key services - including the Domain Name System and e-mail - are an important trend for global ISPs, whose overseas users are clamoring to interact with the 'Net in their native languages instead of the English language approximations used today.Traditionally, domain names were written in ASCII, which is based on English. The Internet Engineering Task Force earlier this year finalized a set of standards for internationalized domain names (IDN). These standards convert foreign language characters into Unicode, a computer industry standard, and then encode these characters in ASCII for transmission over the Internet's DNS.Despite their promise, the IETF's IDN standards have generated little support among software developers. Netscape 7.1, released this summer, is the only Web browser with built-in support for IDNs. Users of other Web browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer have to download special software plug-ins to resolve IDNs.The goal of VeriSign's IDN consortium is to encourage software vendors to support IDNs. Among the companies that sent representatives to the group's initial meeting were Microsoft, Qualcomm, AOL, Neustar, Afilias and several country code registries, including those for Poland, Japan, Korea and Germany.It's unclear whether the group - whose first meeting was dubbed the IDN Software Developers' Summit - will choose to create a formal structure and hold regular meetings.VeriSign officials say the group will publish a white paper with suggested guidelines and standards for software developers to use when building support for IDNs into their applications. A date for the white paper's release has not been announced.One meeting participant said the group's future is uncertain. That's because the top priority of the participants is for Microsoft to support the IETF's IDN standards in Internet Explorer. However, the Microsoft representative who attended the meeting couldn't guarantee that support.IDNs allow multinational corporations to create native-language Web sites to market their products in each of the countries where they do business. Domain name registrars have sold around 5 million IDNs, mostly in Asian languages. However, few of these names point to active Web sites because of the technical hurdle that requiring plug-ins creates for end users.