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Apple QuickTime TV takes aim at RealNetworks

After the Open Source action against Microsoft, Apple opens second streaming media front

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Apple today took the fight for control of the Internet streaming media market to RealNetworks with the launch of QuickTime TV. So far, Apple's attempts to promote QuickTime as the standard for Internet multimedia have largely been aimed at Microsoft. True, the company has often taken digs at Real for the streaming specialist's so-called 'server tax' -- in reality, the price of its server licence -- but Apple's efforts have been directed at building widespread support for QuickTime, especially on non-Microsoft operating systems. The deal here has centred on offering the underlying streaming technology as open source software. The plan here is to encourage the generally anti-Microsoft Linux and free software communities to adopt the technology. And, unlike rival offerings, QuickTime Streaming Server is dirt cheap because it's not licensed on a per stream, but a per server basis. Indeed, not so long ago, Apple announced an updated version of the software designed to make it even easier to port the software from its FreeBSD roots to Linux on a range of non-Mac platforms. Essentially, Apple's moves promote QuickTime as a standard, and helps make Linux appear an even more attractive alternative to Windows NT. It also makes the MacOS more attractive, since the MacOS X version of QuickTime Streaming Server comes will a rather nice, easy-to-use interface. Even if only a few companies shift from PCs running Linux to MacOS X Server, Apple can notch up a success. In a sense, Apple's strategy apes Microsoft's own: giving product away to ensure it's dominance. Apple, however, can get away with it because it not only lacks Microsoft's huge marketshare lead, but because it's target is, well, Microsoft. The QuickTime TV launch, on the other hand, targets RealNetworks. QuickTime is undoubtedly a better Internet multimedia solution than Real's RealSystem G2. What Real has, though, is top-notch content, and it has it in spades, primarily by being the first company to tackle Net video and audio streaming. QuickTime TV brings to Apple the opportunity to offer the same level of quality content. Indeed, it has already signed up a host of top players, including Disney, the BBC, Bloomberg, HBO and Fox. The approach here encourages users to choose QuickTime as the best way of viewing online streamed media. That, in turn, persuades more content providers to support the technology (as does the inexpensive nature of the server software), which means they spend more money on third-party QuickTime authoring software (unlike Real, Apple isn't forcing anyone to use its own authoring apps), so Apple makes more money from the licences it sells to companies like Adobe. QuickTime TV also leverages relaying and rebroadcasting technology from Akamai Technologies, a small company devoted to developing streaming backbone systems, so that should ensure the network's playback performance is as good as, if not better, than Real's. RealNetworks has over 80 per cent of the streaming market, so it was a company Apple would have to attack sooner or later. Right now, Apple's own share is too small to worry Microsoft, which will continue to focus on promoting Windows Media Technologies as the alternative to RealSystem. That leaves Apple to get on using its open source strategy to attack Microsoft, and QuickTime TV to go against Real. And if it's canny, it may just find itself in the dominant position before its rivals even realise what's going on. ®

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