IBM-Real deal for digital music downloads

Can the race to develop the standard for shipping digital music packets over the Net get any hotter, considering the market is a bunch of college kids with the bandwidth and time to download the stuff? Even staid IBM is getting into the picture, announcing a deal yesterday with RealNetworks to collaborate on a music delivery system.

Eben Shapiro of the Wall Street Journal said the pact would accelerate IBM's efforts to come up with a pirate-proof content-delivery system for the Web -- which Big Blue believes will be big business indeed. For RealNetworks, the agreement means an expansion beyond its tinny-sounding, but ubiquitous, desktop streaming audio and video players. Said Shapiro: "RealNetworks is scrambling to position itself in an arena where sound quality, storage capacity, security and ability to collect payments for music delivery are paramount" -- all part of its mano-a-mano competition with Microsoft.

But as Times music critic Neil Strauss wrote in today's Times, record labels aren't exactly jumping for joy over Microsoft's new MS Audio 4.0, expected to be unveiled tomorrow in LA. It's supposed to be faster than MP3 and record company executives are wary for the usual reasons about the security of digital downloads - but most of all, they fear Microsoft's entry into their industry. Microsoft hasn't exactly greased the wheels with tact - their folks have said openly that the music industry's own Secure Digital Music Initiative won't work. So now, the industry is giving the cold shoulder to MS Audio 4.0 -- "The record companies are shutting it down completely," an industry exec told Strauss.

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