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Real-Time Communications

By MacEdition Staff, 14 June 2000

As reported by ZDNet, Apple and Real Networks are partnering to allow RealServer to dish up QuickTime-formatted content to machines which have Apple’s QuickTime Player.

What does it really mean, though? At this point, it’s hard to tell if there is a clear winner in the deal.

RealNetworks gets access to the QuickTime Streaming Server (QTSS) technology for use in its servers (though how much of an added benefit this is is unclear, since Darwin Streaming Server, basically the same code, is open source. Regardless, RealNetworks is now able to claim even better support for the most popular streaming media formats. On the flip side, per the press releases, RealServer can only stream QuickTime-formatted content to Apple’s QuickTime Player, keeping Apple in the user experience.

What does Apple get? Apple gets broader acceptance of the QuickTime server technology. One wouldn’t necessarily have expected Apple to partner with Real, given the “No Server Tax” stance Apple has been playing against Real (with Apple giving away QTSS and RealNetworks charging for production versions of RealServer). However, Apple’s success of late in this strategy has been questioned, with many sites choosing to go with the dominant force in streaming servers, RealNetworks, in order to access the massive installed base of RealPlayer users. Apple does not, however, gain access to that installed base through this deal, since the technology is server-side, not player-side.

So all this means that RealNetworks is the big winner, right? At first, it may seem so, especially considering RealNetworks’ previous agreement to license Windows Media formats from Microsoft for use in RealPlayer. At this point, with a RealServer solution, a site can stream most of the popular streaming formats. Since RealNetworks has the dominant player as well (a situation not changed one bit by this agreement), RealNetworks solidifies their position as the server solution for streaming sites.

However, Apple didn’t allow RealNetworks to knife the baby either. QTSS/Darwin Streaming Server are free so there is no revenue lost from Apple allowing RealNetworks to incorporate the technology. Not only that, but now Apple gets QTSS technology into many sites that previously would not have set up a QT server at all, as they upgrade their RealServer to RealServer8. The server was a barrier keeping many sites from even attempting QuickTime-formatted content. With this move, Apple swept away that barrier. Obviously, Apple expects this to increase the amount of QT content being served.

What about the future? While RealNetworks has a commanding lead in the streaming player market, it is no Microsoft. There is still healthy competition. Apple, by leveling the server field, apparently hopes to shift the market discussion to the players: quality, features, and content availability. On the “player” field, the victor has not yet been determined.

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