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Microsoft multimedia targets Apple

Microsoft is offering a new version of software for creating multimedia content, with the aim of making it the industry standard.

Microsoft is offering a new version of software for creating multimedia content, with the aim of making it the industry standard as PCs increasingly become multimedia-centric.

Version 5.1 of Microsoft's DirectX software kit is a comprehensive set of building blocks for creating multimedia applications. To date, Microsoft has offered the technology in piecemeal fashion.

"I've always used the plumbing analogy: If you want to plumb a building, Microsoft gives you the pipes and valves you need--[and] you have to build the rest yourself," said Ralph Rogers, principal analyst, multimedia technology, at Dataquest.

Microsoft's approach contrasts with Apple Computer's QuickTime multimedia technology, which provides more of the plumbing prebuilt, according to Rogers. A new version of QuickTime was also announced today by Apple, indicating that the two technologies will go head to head in some areas of multimedia content development. (See related story)

The DirectX Media 5.1 software development kit is essentially a collection of APIs (application programming interfaces) that software programmers use to control PC hardware functions such as 3D graphics acceleration and multimedia content playback.

The package incorporates the DirectShow API, which is a media streaming architecture for the capture, processing, and playback of streaming multimedia over the Internet. Supported hardware-related technologies include full-motion video generated from DVD players and advanced surround-sound audio.

DirectAnimation, another API, allows software developers to use interactive animation for Web pages and multimedia applications, according to Microsoft. It can be accessed using a variety of computer languages, including HTML, the Visual Basic development system, and Java.

The Direct3D API is a 3D scene manager that allows developers to manipulate objects and manage complex 3D scenes. DirectPlay is a tool for creating multiplayer online games for the Internet, intranets, LANs, or modem links, said Microsoft.

All the Microsoft API technologies provide a standardized way for software to communicate with PC hardware, insulating software creators from the wide array of hardware found on PCs.

"I would call this an incremental release. There are some new things, but this is not a huge upgrade," said Dataquest's Rogers.

"There are some differences in terms of sophistication," he added. For example, there are added capabilities for creating intensive multimedia applications that could only be done with higher-end independent software tools.

The DirectX 5.1 package is available now on CD-ROM or at Microsoft's Web site at DirectX.