Streaming Media War Heats Up

FRAMINGHAM (03/16/2000) - The battle for streaming media supremacy escalated this week as Microsoft Corp. announced that rival RealNetworks Inc. is licensing its Windows Media software developers kit (SDK).

Microsoft claims this makes the Windows Media format the de facto standard for digital audio on the Web, surpassing RealNetworks' RealMedia format. Microsoft and RealNetworks offer software on both the client and server sides for digital media over the Internet, and each has its own format for delivering content.

"There will now be a universal format for digital audio on the Web," says Will Poole, general manager of Microsoft's digital media division. Based on research by Media Metrix, Poole also says Microsoft edged out RealNetworks in terms of reach to U.S. households in December. That research encompassed all versions of the Windows Media Player, including the less robust versions shipped with Windows 95.

But RealNetworks downplayed the Microsoft announcement, saying it only licensed the Windows Media SDK for its RealJukebox product, which allows users to collect, manage and listen to Web-based music. The company does not have plans to implement support for the Windows Media format in RealPlayer client software, says Rob Grady, a RealNetworks product manager.

"Nothing in this announcement affects the tools, players or servers that we offer to our customers," Grady says.

Both companies say they are leading the battle of the player, with Microsoft claiming more than 100 million installed and RealNetworks saying it has more than 95 million unique registered users. Both give versions of their player away free, although Microsoft has a slight advantage because its player comes bundled with the Windows operating system.

RealNetworks also announced this week that it will add support in the RealPlayer 7 client for Net2Phone's Internet telephony product. This will allow users to make Internet phone calls directly through RealPlayer.

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