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Real and Napster catch portalitis

Online music providers go all fat and horrible

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What a dismal future looms ahead for music lovers, if online subscription services turn out anything like promised.

Real Networks already has a pay-per-view model - and its own Digital Rights Management framework - in place. And in Napster, the industry has a 'brand' name everyone's heard of, which likewise is gearing itself for a subscription-based model.

Yesterday Real Networks announced that it would roll its clients into one application - combining Player and Jukebox - in a textbook exercise in gigantism it calls RealOne. Player has been getting ever more bloated since its debut - although by using it in compact mode, the incessant nagging, channels and 'picks' can effectively be backgrounded. And Jukebox, although it does a reasonable job of encoding, has been a huge, overweight infant since birth.

(Full disclosure: we were a paying customer of Jukebox until bugs and bloat prompted us to move our MP3s to the BeOS machine, where they remain).

Combining the two applications, says Real, will allow people to watch video while they browse the net, while they choose an audio file to play. Which for some reason, they suppose we can't do already.

This depressing vision is confirmed by a rummage through the Real DevZone, which prominently features tutorials on how to create an ad for RealOne.

It looks like the ads will be unmissable.

Real already has a viable business model, charging content providers for the Real server software, but RealOne gives it an opportunity to pick its viewers too, and there's little anyone can do about it short of changing platforms, or persuading the content providers to play the big three streaming media firms (Real, Apple and Microsoft) off against each other. Real is suffering a case of severe portalitis.

Yesterday, too, Napster announced that it was paying $26m to settle claims with authors and their music publishers that its erstwhile free-for-all file sharing service infringed copyright. The individual suits against record companies remain unsettled, however, and Napster gave no launch date for the commencement of the long-awaited subscription service. ®

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