RealNames blames Microsoft for closure

The founder of the company that came up with the idea for using keywords to navigate the Web is blaming Microsoft for the closure

RealNames, the company that championed the idea of finding information on the Internet by navigation rather than by searching, will close on Monday, according to former chief executive Keith Teare, who said he was terminated on Friday along with 79 other employees.

RealNames' keywords, which resolve URLs from common words entered in the Internet Explorer taskbar, will cease to function at the end of June. The company's assets will be sold off.

Teare, who founded RealNames in 1997 to provide what he believed would be an easier way for people to find information on the Internet, blamed Microsoft's refusal to renew its agreement to continue to support RealNames in Internet Explorer.

With some 90 percent of browser market share, the tie-up with Internet Explorer was crucial to RealNames' survival, said Teare in a message posted on his personal Web site.

"Last Tuesday Microsoft informed me that it was not renewing RealNames Corporation's contract to resolve Keywords in the IE browser," wrote Teare in his missive. When the current contract comes to an end on 28 June, 2002, he said, the service will be terminated. "I am sure that Microsoft will do an excellent job of misinforming the public about the reasons for this decision and so I want to put the record straight," he wrote.

In his account of what happened, Teare does not pull any punches. His account of the situation includes a rough transcript of the final meeting between RealNames and Microsoft, together with email addresses of the Microsoft employees who made the decision -- though on Monday morning the email addresses had been removed.

What sealed RealNames' fate, said Teare, was not money, but an inability among Microsoft employees to embrace "any vision that includes non-owned infrastructure." There is, he said, an internal war at Microsoft between those who want to work in wholly owned environments where it is possible to have full control and those who understand the need for Microsoft to build infrastructures such as .Net. The latter group, claimed Teare, seem to have lost the battle.

At the heart of the issue appears to be a consensus that the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates URLs into IP addresses, is unusable as a navigation tool. Bill Bliss, general manager of Search and Navigation Services, is quoted in Teare's account of the final meeting between the companies as agreeing that DNS is 'broken'. But, he said, Microsoft is the wrong company to fix it. "How much are we willing to do to fix it?" Bliss is reported to have said. "How much effort should we put into it? We are also typically seen as 'bad guys' if we try to do too much with Windows."

Teare said he interpreted the comments to mean that Microsoft prefers searching to naming. "This is because (Microsoft) controls search 100 percent whereas (it) could never control naming," he said. "Naturally I'm pretty unhappy about this," said Teare. "Microsoft seems to be playing the role of the referee who decides whether any innovations succeed... RealNames will not be the only victim -- there's a whole ecosystem that stretches all around the world that Microsoft is turning off."

Microsoft was not immediately able to comment.

Keith Tiere's Web site can be found here.

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