Highly Unavailable .Com

Pride comes before a 404

This month, my employer decided to move ahead quickly in announcing their flagship product for Linux servers. What's more, it would be free for non-commercial use. Clearly, this was a world-beater. Not only would we be one of the first, if not the first, to deliver a solution of this type for the hot OS of the moment, but it would ease our guilt and maybe soothe our karma over the NT port.

I was urged to come up with an announcement ASAP, for delivery to Slashdot and all those other fine places. It was also impressed on me that, rather than referring to the normal company URL, I should use the flashy alternative .com domain name, purchased in what was thought to be a considerable coup at our competitors expense by the directors. The alternative domain name did not reflect the company name at all (unlike the standard, boring .co.uk address) but rather the generic category of products it produced.

There has been a steadily increasing traffic in these "vanity domains" since commercialism began to ruin intrude upon the Internet back in '93. Early on, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies grabbed over 200 domains linked to their product range, including such desirable addresses as spots.com, acne.com and probably burning-stream-of-urine.com. (Shortly after this, the annual domain charges came in, so at least we had the pleasure of knowing what the silver lining was in that particular black cloud - said company would now be paying through the nose for their marketing triumph. Indeed, they subsequently relinquished most of the domains a few years later.)

Personally - and I stress that, because this is only my personal opinion - the use of vanity domains really annoys me, and if I ran the Internet then anyone asking for one would be told to f--- off (further requests would be met with vats of boiling oil wheeled by large, bald men with behavioural problems). It abuses the domain naming system by extending the trademark mania of companies into the arena that belongs to the RFCs. This is the same disease that makes the words "today? where want you go to do" rearranged in a certain order and used in a computing context, into the property of Microsoft. Domain names indicate organisations or generic zones; path information below that in URLs locates particular concepts or items within that organisation. The DNS is a distributed tool for mapping names to IP addresses, not a bloody search engine. Otherwise, I might as well grab cynical.org for Big Bubbles, which would be grossly unfair because in this world I wouldn't dare claim a monopoly on cynicism.

Anyway, back to my employers vanity. Being a conscientious and obliging employee (OK, apart from the odd ream of A4), I used the hallowed domain in the Big Linux Announcement. The BLA went out late in the week and we sat back and confidently waited for the plaudits to come rolling in. Our product was bringing an essential element to the party, the perfect compliment to Oracle/Sybase/Informix for Linux and a vital ingredient for corporate acceptance. And it was free, if you were. The other versions were only priced for corporate acceptance. Fame and glory could only be ours.

There was a silently deafening anti-climax. The Linux community did not beat a path to our door. The BLA did not appear on Slashdot or anywhere else. Our access log showed two hits on the page in question, and one of those was our Japanese reseller. Where, we started to wonder, was the big Linux groundswell, the downtrodden masses so keen to support any commercial vendor who endorsed their reason for living? Bastards, maybe we're just not kewl enough for them! Just because our product doesn't have a GNOME interface! Bastards.

Then on Sunday, I received an email from a guy at Linux Today. He tried to access the URL for the announcement and got a "404 Document not found". So, with some concern, I looked into it. And that's when I found out that our shiny new vanity domain hadn't been properly delegated. So far as the rest of the net was concerned - the people not using our internal DNS - it still belonged to the dodgy geezers who were allowed to sell it to us.

And the oh-so-cool site name in this domain? Clue: it was something to do with products that promise 100% uptime and enhanced service availability. Aha. Ahahaha. Who says irony is dead?

This puts me in a somewhat difficult position, because on the one hand I'm extremely upset and embarrassed that our availability product has been sunk by a domain name that isn't available, and on the other I think:

"HAHAHA! Good, serves them right! May the same fate befall all who twist the DNS for their own wicked and vain ends! May the root servers disown all knowledge of them!"

In the meantime, I modified the BLA to use the proper domain name and resubmitted it. Linux Today printed it at the start of the week, since when we've had over 300 hits and several enquiries. Slashdot still hasn't posted anything, but then Slashdot never posts any of my stories anyway. Unfortunately, my employers are still desperate to get their hands on their ill-gotten prize. But at least Linux will have a HA solution at last.

30th January 2000

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