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Streaming rivals square off with facts, figures

Just as RealNetworks launches its all-in-one media software, Microsoft tries to steal a little of the company's thunder with its own news.

At conventions and corporate conferences, the opposition and competitors tend to lay low. Not Microsoft.

Just as RealNetworks launches its all-in-one media software and commences its weeklong conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Microsoft is trying to steal a little of the company's thunder with a handful of announcements not-so-subtly aimed at its chief streaming rival.

Microsoft pointed to the results of a study that showed its Windows Media technology the favorite, by a hair, of what study authors termed "large organizations." According to the April analysis by Portland-based Market Decisions Corp. (MDC), 46 percent of 1,200 surveyed organizations that used streaming media chose Microsoft's software, while 43 percent used RealNetworks'.

RealNetworks said it was unfamiliar with the study but responded that it has 25 million unique registered users in corporations around the world.

"We have been working with enterprises for the last five years and have a healthy market," RealNetworks spokeswoman Erika Shaffer said. She pointed out that the company has several products targeted specifically at server software, including its intranet server and player and the RealPresenter G2 for streaming Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

In more general findings, the MDC study determined that 20 percent of large organizations used streaming media in some way, up from 10 percent in October. Companies planning to implement streaming media technology jumped 125 percent between October and April, according to MDC.

In another announcement with relevance to the corporate market, Microsoft listed a dozen software vendors and media services that had incorporated support for the Windows Media screen capture technology, which lets people stream images of their computer screens for use in help and sales presentations, among others.

RealNetworks dismissed Microsoft's Swimming with sharksscreen capture play, which was announced last month with the release of Windows Media 7, as a Johnny-come-lately.

"We've offered streaming screen capture technology for more than a year through our partners Optx and LearnKey," Shaffer said.

Microsoft also threw down the scalability gauntlet, citing a second study by ZD Labs that found Windows Media Services--which is included in Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system--able to serve more than 9,000 simultaneous streams over a narrowband connection and more than 2,400 over a broadband connection.

With the scalability study, Microsoft "called on the digital media industry to follow suit and freely allow public evaluation of the scalability and reliability of streaming server technology," according to a statement by the company.

RealNetworks said it has done some testing but not with comparable computer processing power or bandwidth connections. Nevertheless, the company said its software could deliver 2,250 streams of 20 kbps audio or 220 streams of 300 kbps video using a single processor.

The ZD study, commissioned by Microsoft, tested broadband with 100 kbps video streams.

"Scalability is an important component, but the true customer benefit is to reach the widest possible audience," Shaffer said. With 125 million unique registered downloads of the RealPlayer, RealNetworks provides that audience, she added.

In a last announcement aimed at topping its rival, Microsoft claimed "international leadership" with its creation of 13 versions of the Media Player 7 Media Guide, which has content tailored to specific geographical markets.

RealNetworks, for its part, said it has had international channels for more than a year and that of its 105 content channels, 45 are international. The company also has 10 international versions of the RealPlayer.