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Desktop Summit In the coming months, Real Networks plans to float a new version of its media player for the Linux operating system that includes more of the features found in the standard player. This "experiment" will give Real an idea as to how practical its fully-fledged media services can be on the open source OS.

Linux/Real zealots out there shouldn't get too excited. All you're going to see with the future version of Real for Linux are new radio stations. Real will separate out the radio service sold as part of its Rhapsody music subscription service and plunk it into the Linux player. You also shouldn't get too excited because Real is not sure it can pull off this plan.

"We can't make any promises there," said Rob Lanphier, the Helix Troublemaker at Real. "The radio portion of Rhapsody is something we're investigating. It would bring a range of different stations. In part, what we are hoping to do is prove that a market exists. We'll put out the internet radio service and based on that initial success or failure decided what to move into the broader offering."

In some ways, it's surprising that Real would even show up at the Desktop Summit here. Void of subscription services, the Linux desktop presents almost no revenue opportunity to Real. Real, however, wants to grab the attention of Linux developers, particularly those using the OS in the embedded market.

"If it was solely about the Linux desktop, we probably would not be here," Lanphier said. "The idea is to get to the people making phones and car radios. Very few people want to be tied down to a humming beige box in their den. They want to take their music out jogging and watch movies on planes - all those kinds of things."

To that end, Real yesterday announced a broader license for its open source Helix media player. The new terms allow embedded device makers to pick and choose which parts of the Helix stack they want to use. Real also announced stronger ties with Nokia.

One of the perks about being a Linux on Real/Helix fan is that you can get a sneak peek into the features that will eventually appear in the mainstream player. "The new stuff flows to Linux where we can play with the code, and you can test it," Lanphier said.

So far, licensing issues have hampered Real from bringing its standard content services to Linux. The open source world doesn't mesh terribly well with DRM (digital rights management) concerns of content owners. The free software advocates at the company hope the radio service will be the first step toward changing this situation.

With a variety of media players around for Linux, a slow-moving Real isn't a huge concern. Although, if the Linux desktop is to end up in average consumers' hands, Real will need to be there in full force. Tempting server and embedded developers while stringing desktop developers along is a dangerous line to walk as well. Here's hoping to radio experiment works and Real takes the desktop more seriously. ®

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