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RealNetworks launches Jukebox

RealNetworks introduces a new digital music architecture and a new device for downloading music in MP3 and other digital music formats.

RealNetworks today introduced a new digital music architecture and a new device for downloading music in MP3 and other digital music formats.

RealSystem MP, based on the company's RealSystem G2 streaming media player, is an open digital MP3: Sound and fury music platform providing the music industry and consumers with a secure and convenient method for recording, playing, organizing, and acquiring music from the Internet, the company said.

As reported earlier, RealJukebox, also announced today, is a client-side application that converts, or "rips," compact discs and translates them into a digital file format, the company said. The product also automatically enters information such as song title and artist into a manageable database for music downloaded from the Internet or CDs.

The beta release of RealJukebox is available for a free download from Real's Web site and at CNET Download.com. (CNET is the publisher of News.com.)

Jukebox is being launched in response to the explosive growth of MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3), a compression format that allows for easy downloading of music files onto a PC hard drive or portable MP3 player. Although the format itself is legal, it lacks copyright protections, and the music industry has cracked down on sites offering illegally copied music. But thousands of amateur artists and several high-profile professionals have embraced the technology to distribute their music on the Net.

By default, the RealNetworks software will not allow users to send unauthorized copies of recorded music online, but it would be easy for users to change that setting, said Dave Richards, vice president of RealNetworks' consumer products division.

He said the company fully supports the Secure Digital Music Initiative, the music industry's attempt to protect copyrighted material on the Net, and he said future versions of the software will add digital "watermarks" to copies.

"We're very focused on maintaining the rights of copyright holders," Richards told Reuters. "We know that's necessary to move the business forward."

The company says RealSystem MP is a simple way to create and manage a personal music library on a PC with high-quality digital audio. For content providers, RealSystem MP helps to protect against unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted materials. For hardware and software developers, RealSystem MP music platform can be used to enhance RealJukebox functionality.

RealSystem MP provides a set of software interfaces that enables integration with a range of Internet services, the company said. At the heart of RealSystem MP is the music database and a powerful set of interfaces that allow for a wide range of products, services, and hardware devices to be easily supported.

Although MP3 is considered by many to already be a de facto standard for music downloads, RealNetworks' user base of roughly 60 million will give MP3--and online music delivery in general--a significant boost. Analysts have said that music downloads must be simple and readily available to the mass market before the Net will become a viable medium for music delivery, and RealNetworks is clearly aiming to bridge that gap.

"It's a foot in the direction of moving the consumer toward future music products that won't be delivered on a piece of plastic," Mark Hardie, senior analyst at Forrester Research, told Reuters.

"The Jukebox has the potential to do to digital audio what Windows did for DOS-based computing," Jae Kim of Paul Kagan Associates told Reuters. "It creates a more intuitive, user-friendly system of management."

Today's announcements come in the wake of Yahoo's proposed acquisition of Broadcast.com, which brought the strategy of RealNetworks and other Webcasters into the spotlight. In addition to keeping up with the MP3 craze, Jukebox is Real's latest effort to compete in the Internet audio space. Microsoft, which is struggling to chip away at Real's 85 percent market share in streaming media, earlier this month released an updated version of its Windows Media Technologies.

RealNetworks said more than 50 companies have announced support for the new device and architecture, including Amazon.com, MP3.com, MusicSpot.com, Gateway, and Intel.

Pricing was not made immediately available.

Reuters contributed to this report.