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Streaming media and Free Software

By Raphael Bauduin

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.
]

I express in this text my personal opinion on the danger I think
could arise if the famous company from Redmond wins the streaming
war against RealNetworks as it won the browser war against
Netscape. The fact that I didn’t read anything on that subject yet
makes me wonder if I’m completely wrong. Just let me know if this
is the case 🙂

In the last weeks, we’ve heard news that Microsoft was gaining
ground in the streaming media field against RealNetworks. Warner
Bros. chose Windows Media and left RealNetworks aside for a part of
their site. Yahoo is also said to choose M$ technology in place of
RealNetworks’. This makes me afraid: I exclusively use Linux, and
the only streaming technology available (as far as I know) on Linux
is coming from the RealNetworks people: you have the player and the
server running on Linux.

Again, the problem with the Redmond technology is that it’s only
available on platforms M$ doesn’t see as a threat to their empire.
So, don’t hope to see the Windows Media Player on Linux soon. Nor
the server. And that’s the biggest problem, I think. If companies
decide to standardize on M$ streaming technology, they won’t be
able to choose the platform they’re running on. It will have to be
NT.

But where’s the problem coming from? Is RealNetworks arrogant
when dealing with customers? If that’s it, they give a unique
opportunity to M$. Netscape rejected requests from AOL to customize
Navigator. AOL went to M$… Netscape thought they were too strong
to have to accept the deal with AOL. I hope RealNetworks doesn’t
think they’re too strong to deal respectfully with their
customers.

But I’m afraid this is the problem. Why would Yahoo want to go
with M$ technology? They use free software to run their business.
Why standardize on M$ technology? Not because of the price: Linux +
Real Server must be around the same price as Windows NT + IIS +
Windows Media Server. Plus, freedom has no price! The problem must
be in the attitude from RealNetworks.

What’s more, I think M$ is trying to do the same thing to Real
it did to Netscape: cut the air supply. They bundle their player
(on the desktop) and their server (on the… server) with Windows.
This is not important for sites like Yahoo, but it is important for
other sites that decide to use NT: why look to RealNetworks if I
already got a streaming server installed with my OS?

Anyway, how can RealNetworks hope to survive without revenues
from their software? I read they hoped to do it by becoming a media
company, just like Netscape wanted with Netcenter. The problem is:
by becoming a media company, they’ll begin to compete against their
customers, and these could abandon the RealNetworks technology.
This means these customers will become Windows based sites (do you
think the server side runs on another platform than Windows?).

I also imagine Windows Media runs best with IIS. So there goes
the market share of Apache (streaming servers will become more and
more ubiquitous on the Internet). One tactic for Real would be to
bundle their servers with an OS….. They could do it without any
problem (I think) — delivering their servers on Linux and with
Apache. They could provide the same integration on the server side
as M$. Sadly, I never heard anything like that from Rob Glaser.

My biggest problem is not that M$ would win, my problem is that
they would win by playing unfairly. We can hope the M$ trial will
save RealNetworks before it’s too late. Because if RealNetworks
looses, Free Software loses…

A copy of this article (and eventual updates of
it) is available on my
page.

You can contact me at [email protected]