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Microsoft may resell RealNames

Centraal, which markets a system to find Web sites by real names rather than URLs, is negotiating a business agreement with Microsoft, says Centraal CEO Keith Teare.

Centraal, which markets a system to find Web sites by real names rather than URLs, is negotiating a broad business agreement with Microsoft, Centraal chief executive Keith Teare disclosed.

Topics under discussion include having Microsoft's LinkExchange unit sell RealNames to its 1 million-plus small business members.

News of the Microsoft talks comes after Centraal indicated last week that its RealNames system is an option in Microsoft's latest browser, Internet Explorer 5.

"Something bigger is in the works," said Teare, explaining why Centraal had not ballyhooed the news on inclusion in Microsoft's browser. Teare indicated Centraal is hoping to get Microsoft and Netscape to make Centraal's technology the default in their browsers rather than just an option.

Teare said Microsoft is conducting pilot tests with 16 of its Internet properties. A Microsoft spokesman could not be reached for comment today.

RealNames involve using simple, easy-to-remember words rather than complicated URLs to locate Web pages. Last month Centraal announced that its system is being expanded to include Web queries.

"The ambition is to have RealNames in a ubiquitous environment, which would take it beyond being one of the options in IE 5.0," said Barbara Gore, Centraal's senior vice president of business development and strategic planning. She confirmed that LinkExchange is a possible reseller.

Likewise, Microsoft's reselling RealNames would help fulfill Centraal's ambition "to have RealNames in as many places as possible where Webmasters would be interested in learning about services," Gore said. The 1 million registered users of LinkExchange, which Microsoft bought in November 1998 to use as a channel to reach small companies on the Internet, would be a logical spot for selling RealNames.

To use Centraal's services, Web users must have special software, so persuading browser makers to put that software into their client software is key to Centraal's goal of achieving widespread use. NeoPlanet enables RealNames in version 2.0 of its browser.

A broader relationship with Microsoft could pressure Netscape, which has been talking to Centraal for months about an alliance, to cut a deal too. However, Netscape has been dragging its feet in talks, because its browser includes "smart browsing" technology that works somewhat like RealNames.

In addition, Netscape's acquisition by America Online has complicated discussions. Mike Homer, the Netscape executive who oversees browser software and the Netcenter Web site, is going on sabbatical for several months, and there have been other high-level departures in that division.

Last week Centraal announced that individuals with home pages hosted on Web community sites such as GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire, Xoom.com, and others can get a free RealName address. Centraal also hopes to get those hosting sites to sell RealNames, targeting individuals who want more than one name.

Today RealNames is enabled by search sites AltaVista and LookSmart. Centraal also has cut a deal with Inktomi, whose technology powers searches on dozens of Internet sites.