Described by associates as brilliant and hypercompetitive, Glaser was an ambitious young executive who worked his way up through the ranks to become vice president of the multimedia systems group at Microsoft. In 1993, Glaser, a Yale graduate, left Microsoft to start what was originally called Progressive Networks.
For a while, it looked like a brilliant move. As a supplier of multimedia software, RealNetworks saw its fortunes soar during the dot-com era's heyday.
"I think everybody who knows Rob from Microsoft would agree that he's trying to prove something to Bill," said one former Microsoft colleague, who asked not be named. "A big part of Rob when he got started was to prove he could do it by himself."
This executive traced Glaser's motivation to his being passed over to head up Microsoft's multimedia efforts.
"He left Microsoft because Bill chose Nathan (Myrhvold) to run multimedia. That became a big political battle because Bill wanted to unify multimedia under one person and it was Nathan. Rob's been trying to prove subconsciously ever since that Bill chose the wrong person."
Peter Harter, who was Netscape's chief lobbyist during its browser war against Microsoft, agreed that Glaser's business ambitions in some way mixed with the personal.
"He always had this ax to grind and wanted to be as big as Bill," Harter noted. "He's very competitive. But the fact is that he's been successful and been able to manage the company in such a way as to make a lot of people wealthy."
A thickset man possessed of a rapid-fire staccato delivery, Glaser is not shy when it comes to promoting his company to the press. His bull-in-a-china-shop approach to business has won admirers who say it's been vital to RealNetworks' early success.
He also has not been hesitant about sticking it to his ex-boss when the opportunity arises.
Can RealNetworks roll a strike?
This profile from January 2002 finds
CEO Rob Glaser already defending his
company in bunkerlike pitched battles
against the vast empire of Microsoft.
Now Glaser has pushed the charge even further, filing an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft that alleges Microsoft abused its desktop monopoly to advance its own media player.
"It's deja vu in the sense people have asked whether Real would get Netscaped," said the former colleague. "Now Real's making the same complaints. Will it have the same ending? I don't know. It must show Rob is hurting."
At RealNetworks, his intense management style, one that leaves little doubt about who is in charge, has led to the departure of several executives over the years. Admired for his intellect, he is also feared for a towering temper.
Glaser's personal life is no less combative. An avid bowler, he also is a board member of the Professional Bowlers Association. A self-described "progressive" political activist in college, Glaser has amassed wealth today that allows him to indulge his activism with donations.
Through his Glaser Progress Foundation, which had assets of $29 million at the end of 2002, Glaser has donated to a variety of animal rights organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Humane Society.