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RealNetworks targets Microsoft with new media software

Marking its latest effort in its battle against Microsoft, the company unveils a new product that packages many of its online media delivery services into one offering.

Marking its latest effort in its battle against Microsoft, RealNetworks today unveiled a product that packages many of its online media delivery services into one offering.

Real Entertainment Center, as the new product is called, bundles some of the company's most popular products, including a new version of its audio and video streaming software, RealPlayer 8; RealJukebox 2, which transforms Swimming with sharks CD tracks into digital format; and RealDownload 4, which manages the way people download files from the Web.

The launch is RealNetworks' latest attempt to maintain its lead in the streaming media business. The company is engaged in a long-standing battle against Microsoft, which according to some accounts is rapidly gaining on RealNetworks' lead in streaming software usage.

Today's release comes nearly two months after Microsoft unveiled Windows Media Player 7, which also combines a media streamer with jukebox functions.

RealNetworks' decision to tie its media player with its jukebox was not surprising to analysts.

"I think it's about time that RealNetworks packaged the jukebox and the player together," said Aram Sinnreich, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "The notion of putting them into a single discreet download and pitching them as suite of interconnected services makes a lot of sense."

But RealNetworks is trying not to look back at Microsoft's efforts. The company has increasingly shifted its focus more toward a media and advertising model and less toward an emphasis on streaming software sales. For example, RealNetworks last fall relaunched its Real.com Web site as a destination for online music and entertainment.

Newer features in RealNetworks' software, such as "Take 5" on the RealPlayer, also signify the company's efforts to become a content programmer rather than strictly a software provider.

"With the introduction of the Real Entertainment Center, we are providing consumers with the greatest degree of choice, content and flexibility in

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Internet digital media delivery and management," Tom Frank, RealNetworks chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Today's release comes months after RealNetworks began licensing Microsoft's audio technology for RealJukebox. Though Microsoft portrayed the announcement as a testament that Windows Media will become the digital audio standard, RealNetworks saw the deal as a natural step to accommodate all major formats for downloading audio files.