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Microsoft launches streaming media division

Expect to see Murdoch-style tactics being used to outbid RealNetworks and Apple

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Microsoft's move to beat RealNetworks at its own game advanced a step yesterday when the Great Satan of Software announced the formation of a streaming media marketing unit. The aptly named Streaming Media Division will develop Microsoft's streaming technology, announced earlier this month and going under the Windows Media Technologies (WMT) 4.0 banner. WMT is already in public beta, so the move, from a technological standpoint at least, is simply about giving the development team their own space away from the broader Windows 9x/2000 development programmes. The marketing aspect is more important. With RealNetworks dominating streamed audio and video -- it owns roughly 85 per cent of the market -- particularly now it has teamed up with IBM, Microsoft needs to show it's serious about winning the war. The WMT launch boasted the backing some leading Internet-based media companies, but by no means were they the majority or the most important players in the field. Creating a business unit dedicated to streaming should, Microsoft hopes, convince any doubters. It may also help to counter that other streaming media wannabe, Apple, which launched its bid the week after the WMT roll-out. Apple is pushing QuickTime, already the dominant standard for computer-based video creation and playback. With the addition of streaming technology, that puts Apple in a strong position. Its canny move to offer its streaming server software under an open source-style licence will help too. Apple's coup with Lucasfilm to offer the trailer to the upcoming Star Wars movie in QuickTime format has clearly demonstrated the importance of winning big-name support, and Microsoft desperately needs such headline-grabbing alliances for WMT. Movie studios are likely to be high on the division's list of priorities, and given the budget this team is likely to be working to expect both Real and Apple to be rapidly outbid. ®

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