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SPA may call standards meeting

The group may hold a meeting on rules for software file formats, as RealNetworks and Netscape draft a position paper on the subject.

The Software Publishers Association is considering holding a meeting this summer to discuss industry guidelines for handling file formats, fueled by the RealNetworks allegations last week that Microsoft's Media Player "breaks" software from RealNetworks.

Microsoft denies RealNetworks' charges. In the meantime, RealNetworks, Netscape Communications, and other companies are circulating a draft of a position paper dubbed "Rules of the Road: Fair Practices & Conventions for Handling File Formats in the Era of the Internet," SPA president Ken Wasch said today.

RealNetworks is expected to announce tomorrow that companies including itself are supporting the position paper. The document could be submitted to a standards board, one source said.

"For the most part there are no standard conventions for how software should function in a world with competing playback of file format," reads an excerpt in the draft, obtained by CNET News.com. "Issues arise about implicit vs. explicit consumer consent, and developers of file formats have different philosophies about how this could work. A combination of careless implementation and divergent policies result in inconsistent experiences for consumers.

"The bottom line is that consumers and the industry will benefit from the establishment of consistent and well understood guidelines for arbitration between competing file format handlers."

Representatives of Microsoft, Netscape, and RealNetworks declined comment.

Wasch denied that the campaign was anti-Microsoft, but some have expressed skepticism about the effort. "I doubt if Microsoft has been asked to review and sign this," a source wrote in an email.

The SPA previously has teamed up with companies such as Netscape to challenge Microsoft's dominance in operating systems and support antitrust lawsuits filed against it by federal regulators.

"A number of companies have come to us and said the issues raised by RealNetworks last week are issues that arise frequently in our industry," Wasch said. "It arises with MIME documents and media players. There are no established rules of the road."

Wasch said Microsoft would be invited to the meeting if it materializes. He said he did not know if the software giant was asked to review the draft document being circulated. The SPA holds its annual conference in Chicago September 12 to 15.

Microsoft has denied that its Media Player disables RealNetworks software, as demonstrated by chief executive Rob Glaser at a congressional hearing last week.

According to a source, the document is a "position paper that provides a set of guidelines about how MIME types should be established and maintained. It calls for creation of a clearinghouse, and a procedure that demands that when software tries to 'take over' an extension, it must request permission from the user."