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InternetNews.com: RealNetworks Goes Browsing With Mozilla

Apr 27, 2000, 05:21 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Thor Olavsrud)

By Thor Olavsrud, InternetNews.com

RealNetworks Inc. is adding browser funtionality to a private-label version of its media player, fueling speculation that its war with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), which many thought ended in March when RealNetworks agreed to add support for Microsoft's Windows Media format, may flare up again.

RealNetworks (RNWK) is using portions of Mozilla.org's open-source browser code in a version of its media player and server created for Web broadcaster Global Media. The version lets RealNetworks' system stream and display Web elements, including HTML and Macromedia Flash animation files. This allows Web radio stations and other content providers to create player interfaces with a unique look and feel, similar to the "skins" on the latest version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

The Global Media player will use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser if that browser is installed on a computer. Otherwise, it will download the Mozilla-based browser.

As more audio and video content makes its way to the Web, hybrids like the Global Media player are likely to erode distinctions between browsers and media players. Microsoft is already enlisting its market leading Internet Explorer browser in efforts to close RealNetworks' enormous lead in a heated battle for control of the streaming media player and server market.

By incorporating browser functions in its media player, RealNetworks could theoretically counter efforts by Microsoft and others to build streaming functions directly into the browser.

For its part, RealNetworks denies that it has any designs on the Web browsing market and said there are no plans to utilize the HTML-reading capability of its custom build for Global Media in its own version of the player.

"Are we turning our player into a browser? There is zero intention to do that," said Ben Rotholtz, general manager of systems and tools in a statement. "Our system is capable of streaming anything. The fact that we're picking up HTML as a data type just shows how rich (our system) is, but there's zero value in our becoming a browser. We're really focused on multimedia."

Winston Barta, Global Media's vice president of business development, said he is not concerned with whether or not RealNetworks is trying to be a media player or a browser. "We can send Web pages through our Real server into the player window, and that's the direction we're going."

"This is the Real system on crack," he added.

Barta said Global Media wants to use the "enhanced functionality" that standalone Web browsers offer, but he also said the company has concrete plans to use the Real system to serve Web pages that would let his company's clients -- radio stations and other multimedia content sites -- complete transactions through the player interface.

Analysts said prospects for a Web-browsing media player are mixed. Jeremy Schwartz, analyst with Forrester Research said simplifying the tools that people use to interact with audio is good for consumers. But he also said that devices that do too many disparate things are not successful from a consumer point of view.

Regardless of RealNetworks' intentions for Web-browsing capabilities, the company's participation in the Mozilla software development effort is a big win for Mozilla.

Mozilla, the first and highest-profile open-source project launched and funded by a corporation, relies on paid employees of America Online unit Netscape Communications and on volunteer companies and individuals to develop the source code, or underlying software, of Netscape's Communicator browser.

In recent months, however,Mozilla has staged a rally in attracting developers not on the AOL payroll, including people from IBM, Intel, Liberate, NetObjects, Nokia, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems.

"RealNetworks' adopting the Mozilla code is a great example of the use of the code in a range of products and appliances," said Mitchell Baker, whose title is "chief lizard wrangler" for Mozilla. "It's also a great example of the development momentum and involvement that is going on presently."

RealNetworks has come under pressure to open its own software, but Rotholtz said the company has no intention to do that beyond continuing to offer application programming interfaces -- programming shortcuts that let developers build on top of applications like the RealSystem.

But Rotholtz does endorse Mozilla's open-source effort.

"It's a great cause," Rotholtz said. "Thanks to Mozilla, people have been able to go out and build new solutions and extend the world of what people are able to do on the Web. One company alone does not move the Internet along as the next mass medium."

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