Microsoft and Universal Acceptance

We caught up with Microsoft’s Mark Svancarek at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico.  Mark explained his role in coordinating efforts right across Microsoft’s services and offerings to enhance universal acceptance of internationalised domain names.

Mark Svancarek is Principal Program Manager at Microsoft.  He explained that work on universal acceptance has been going on for many years, but until recently it was happening in disconnected pockets around the business.  Mark’s responsible for coordinating the corporation’s efforts to make universal acceptance a reality.

Email address internationalisation (EAI) is a key focus

Readers of the IDN World Report will be familiar with the challenges of universal acceptance.  Simply put, universal acceptance means that an internationalised domain name should work seamlessly in any context that a traditional ASCII domain name is used, such as email, web browsers, mobile devices, certificates and DNS policy data.

In our annual surveys, domain industry experts repeatedly tell us that universal acceptance is the single change that needs to happen to boost IDN uptake.  A key part of delivering universal acceptance relates to IDNs as email (what Mark refers to in this interview as ‘EAI’ or ’email address internationalisation’).

While there has been progress in supporting IDNs in email addresses from a number of providers including Google, Microsoft and COREmail, the industry has so far not achieved the vision of being able to use IDN email addresses to send and receive emails regardless of platform or service.  As our 2016 report concludes, ‘there are still very few cases where users can experience end-to-end delivery of internationalised email and universal acceptance seems a long way off.’

Microsoft – a joined up approach to universal acceptance

Mark Svancerak of Microsoft explains that IDNs have ‘profound consequences for our partners and customers all over the world.’  Microsoft has been interested in delivering universal acceptance, but until two years ago, work was taking place ‘in pockets around the company, not end to end.’

Things are starting to change. Over the past two years, Microsoft has been investing heavily in delivering email address internationalisation (or EAI) end to end.

Supporting internationalised email in servers – a significant challenge

A lot of the work being done by Microsoft and other vendors will not be visible to users yet. That’s because, to prevent IDN emails being dropped in transit, it is essential that mail servers are enabled to support internationalised email addresses.

This is a significant undertaking. For example, as our 2016 study reported, a recent survey of 150,000 mail servers in Russia found that only 0.5% were enabled to support internationalised email addresses – and that is in a country whose official language uses Cyrillic script and which has nearly one million registered IDNs under .рф.

Microsoft – progress on supporting IDNs in email

However, there is light on the horizon.  As Mark reports ‘Outlook 2016 supports [email address internationalisation] EAI and Exchange Online will very soon offer it.’

Next steps will be enabling users to provision their own mailboxes using internationalised email addresses.

Supporting IDNs as unique identifiers?

Email addresses are guaranteed to be unique, and are frequently used by online providers as a user name for their customers to sign in.  We reported in 2015 that it is impossible to create a user account on the world’s most popular web services using an IDN email address

Mark reports that Microsoft is not yet supporting the use of IDN email addresses as user account names. However, that is on the roadmap for Microsoft in order to achieve the goal of ‘accepting all domains and all email addresses equivalently and equally’.