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Real hits play on latest media software

The RealPlayer 10 release is aimed at winning back momentum in the multimedia business that had been slipping toward Microsoft and Apple Computer.

RealNetworks on Monday released an update to its digital audio and video software that promises support for every major content format and online music download service.

The latest version of the RealPlayer 10 music-playing software offers consumers the ability to use all the content delivery systems the company's competitors developed, including Microsoft's Windows Media format and Apple Computer's iTunes music service. The digital media software maker is hoping that the flexibility of its new software will distinguish it from rival music stores and software packages.

RealNetworks first debuted a test version of the software at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The company distributes RealPlayer 10 for free via its Web site to consumers in North America, Europe and Japan.

"Since the product's initial public release, consumers and reviewers have enthusiastically embraced RealPlayer 10, because they finally have a single product that works with their favorite portable devices and plays all the great free and premium content they find online," Richard Wolpert, chief strategy officer at RealNetworks, said in a statement.

Other updates to RealPlayer include better integration with the company's Rhapsody music download service for U.S. consumers, redesigned fast-forward and rewind controls, and support for a larger number of portable music devices.

The product launch comes at a pivotal time for RealNetworks, which on Wednesday praised the European Commission's recent ruling against Microsoft, saying it will help Real in its private lawsuit against the software giant.

Special report

Microsoft's rivalry is only one
of Real's hardships.

The EU ruling is widely viewed as RealNetworks' best opportunity to increase market share, if the commission's decision is upheld, forcing Microsoft to open its desktop and server operating systems in order to give competing media software makers greater ability to battle for end users. RealNetworks is expected to begin advocating RealPlayer for PC manufacturers that have traditionally bundled Microsoft's media software with its OS in their machines.

RealNetworks is also hoping to become the de facto media software provider to mobile devices, making important deals with equipment makers and carriers to deliver content via wireless networks. The company has already signed on about 26 mobile operators and has several deals to build its digital media technology directly into handsets.

However, competition is sure to remain tough. Microsoft is working on technology that makes it easier for consumers to store, catalog and retrieve audio and video clips. The tool, which will build on the storage capabilities of Microsoft's upcoming Windows operating system, known as Longhorn, could give the software giant a decisive edge over RealNetworks, Apple and other competitors.

Microsoft also recently trumped Real by winning a deal with Major League Baseball to offer live audio and video on its networks. MLB used to have a partnership with RealNetworks.

As part of the RealPlayer 10 launch, RealNetworks announced new partnerships with Air America Radio, Car Talk from NPR, Movielink and Virgin Radio, adding to the roughly 50 companies that currently support its software.