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Real Networks aims to please

The company moves to integrate its streaming media software with both America Online's instant messaging service and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Real Networks today moved to integrate its streaming media software with both America Online's instant messaging service and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, and to support an important Web broadcasting technology.

Real today announced an update of its G2 streaming media player that provides tighter integration with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) real-time messaging and chat software.

The G2 Update 1 interface features a menu item and a button that launch an AIM window. Included in that window is the URL for whatever page the user is listening to or viewing.

For its part, AIM will recognize streaming media address types that Real uses--those starting with "pnm" or "rtfp"--and automatically hotlink them in the AIM window. AIM already does the same thing for standard Web addresses, such as those beginning with "http."

Real is creating a toolbar for use with Microsoft's IE 5 browser, which launched today. The toolbar, created under Microsoft's Web Accessories initiative, will provide a link to Real's multimedia listing, RealGuide.

A report in The Wall Street Journal of a "deal" between Microsoft and Real Networks sent Real's stock climbing yesterday; shares reached a day high just shy of 134 before closing at 121, up 6 for the day. But Microsoft denied there was any type of deal between the two companies, and Real spokespeople hedged when asked about the existence of a deal.

Real's stock was trading up 9.5 to 130.5 in late afternoon trading today.

Microsoft's Web Accessories is an initiative that lets any third-party Web site build a toolbar that users can keep open while they surf other sites. Other sites that already had constructed similar extensions include Alexa Internet, Bloomberg Financial Markets, The New York Times on the Web, and Microsoft's own MSN portal site. Microsoft today announced a host of other sites using Web Accessories, including Lycos, Go Network, Excite, and AltaVista.

One of IE 5's new features may give Real and its Web Accessories extension a run for its money. Microsoft has added a sizable radio bar to the browser interface that lets users change volume and keep track of stations while they surf other sites. Whether users will want two multimedia content extensions running simultaneously on their browser remains to be seen.

Microsoft and Real have endured a tumultous relationship. After a falling out over a technology licensing agreement, Microsoft announced it would divest from Real. Microsoft and Real now promote incompatible multimedia formats for the Web.

Real today also announced a redesign of the RealGuide and support for multicasting. A multicast, like a television or radio broadcast, differs from the more common streaming unicast in that one signal is sent out at a given time to all viewers or listeners who tune into it. Unicasts, by contrast, require a server to send content to each audience member individually, creating enormous scalability problems for large audience events.