is taking steps to offer new services that will enable Internet users globally to navigate the Web in a variety of different languages.
VeriSign's new services will promote global usage of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), which will give Internet users a choice of over 350 local languages for sites ending in .com and .net.
While the Internet was initially developed in the United States, there has been dramatic growth in non-English-based Web sites in recent years.
VeriSign said using its "Web-based Navigation and i-Nav plug-in services, users can type a domain name of the Web site they wish to visit, in their local language, and continue to see the domain name in the intended language."
Besides VeriSign, InnerWise, Alldomains and Domain Registration Services are among the companies working on developing IDNs. Domain Registration Services is focusing specifically on the Chinese and markets using the Cyrillic alphabet.
VeriSign is offering its i-Nav software for free download at idnnow.com and it is supported by Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and Outlook e-mail programs. The site is currently translated into Arabic, Chinese, English, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean and Russian. By February, VeriSign expects the site to be translated into Brazilian Portuguese, French, Danish, Swedish, German and Spanish.
But VeriSign's move into the IDN market is not without controversy. VeriSign Global Registry Services, unilaterally announced that its new technology will redirect Web users to download its free i-Nav plug-in, and then will be able to see pages in their native language, rather than receiving an error message.
Last week, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) issued a statement on its Web site expressing concern that VeriSign's service is using technology that is contrary to Internet Domain Name System (DNS) and requests using non-ASCII characters.
"In response to these expressions of concern, ICANN has requested the advice of the Internet Architecture Board, which is responsible for providing oversight of the architecture for the protocols and procedures used by the Internet, on the changes announced by VeriSign Global Registry Services (VGRS)," ICANN said.
ICANN said DNS was designed to support 38 English-language ASCII characters, but IDN's utilize the non-ASCII 96,000-character Unicode system. It is unclear how and when ICANN will resolve its dispute with Verisign.
VeriSign had a rough year in 2003, seeing its stock price fall nearly 80 percent, or more than $6 billion in shareholder value. However, so far in 2003, investors have bid up VeriSign shares, the stock is up more than 30 percent. VeriSign bought Internet domain pioneer Network Solutions in mid-2000 for $19.6 billion.