We've run a number of stories about RealNames over the years. To our credit, Slashdot readers and editors have mostly thought that RealNames was a foolish and pointless money wasting exercise to create an alternate DNS system that is neither, well, alternative or compatible with the DNS protocols. But recently, due to some shrewd marketing on the Part of Keith Teare, the RealNames CEO, they've gotten undeserved sympathy by painting themselves as victims of Microsoft. It is my intention to cut this off before it goes any further, to engage in some review of RealNames business and why it was a good thing that they went out of business. If you are interested in reading my thoughts about this, read on...A quick review: RealNames (then Centraal) first showed up on the Slashdot radar in 1998 when they inked a sales deal with Pre-verisign Network Solutions in which NSI would sell RealNames along with their other stable of internet "products." RealNames were very much pioneers in doing ethically troubling things for money on the Internet. Specifically, they were the first company to make a business model around manipulating search results for money. They also were trying to replace Network Solutions then-monopolistic control of domain names (a laudable goal) with a monopoly of their own (not so laudable), with their RealNames "augmenting" the DNS system in the Internet Explorer Browser and within search engines with which they had inked sales deals.
Now many many users of Slashdot have expressed their dislike for search services that order results based on cash, and many of us don't use IE, so the question comes up: why should we care about RealNames at all? Why does the failure of some poorly managed, ill-conceived company warrant any space on Slashdot? Alternative root servers make for a better story, no doubt. I'm the first to agree that RealNames deserves very little of your time, but the story of RealNames has recently taken a turn that is both annoying to me personally, and worrying to me as a long time participant in the open source scene.
Keith Teare, CEO of RealNames, has tried to make it seem like it was Microsoft's monopoly power that made RealNames go out of business. Lets review: RealNames had a deal with Microsoft to provide the RealNames service to MSN and Internet Explorer, for which they paid Microsoft a fee, and in return they got to derive revenue from selling the RealNames to companies, so basically Microsoft was likely RealNames' sole source of income. Keith and his coworkers were very happy to tie their horse to Microsoft while Microsoft was willing to pull them.
I don't need to explain to the Slashdot reader why RealNames was a poor idea. It is something you feel in your gut. I mean, in the end if you're going to accept the consensus reality that is the domain name system, are you going to stick with the somewhat broken NSI/ICANN/Pick-Your-Favorite-DNS company structure? Or are you going to go to a completly left field, poor, expensive excuse for NSI like RealNames? If you are a company trying to establish a web presence, do you choose the system that everyone has agreed on and publicize your url "http://www.bobstigerrentals.com" ? Or do you put: "RealName: Bob's Tiger Rentals" in your ads?
To illustrate further: Back in the day, I bought the linux.com domain name for the then-VA Research (Now VA Software) from Fred van Kempen (And there was much publicity, huzzah). Four or five months after doing this, I got a call from James Ash at RealNames trying to sell me the Linux RealName. This was not unusual, as I'd get any number of calls trying to sell me anything from containers full of stuffed penguins to whole companies (I was the wrong guy for those calls ...) What shocked me was the price he thought we'd pay. My mind remembers it as a horrible inverted Ron Popiel style sale, with none of the charm of Ron's products. How much would you pay to control the "Linux" RealName for four years? You'll be all over MSN and IE! $19.95? $29.95? $39.95? Try 1 million dollars.
It was a lot of money then, it's a lot of money now. It was a lot of money for any business. I told him we'd get back if we were interested. I didn't get back to him.
This is the innovation that Mr. Teare claims Microsoft squished, his right to overcharge for a dubious product. While Caveat Emptor certainly applied in the case of RealNames, his claim that Microsoft, somehow, has some duty to continue to provide the RealNames "service" to their browser client rings false. And that is the point of relating this bit of personal history.
I have little interest in engaging in schadenfreude over broken companies and laid off workers, but I do take issue with Keith Teare's attempt to jump on the anti-trust complainants bandwagon. If it is his hope that by crying foul on Microsoft now he can derive some sympathy or some other unknown gain, he'll have to look somewhere else than here on Slashdot, especially considering those that have a valid complaint against the software giant. Even considering recent developments I can't find any sympathy for him or his company, a company that, in my mind, belongs in the same class as LinuxONE (the California, not the Korean, company) and Digital Convergence.