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About time: Joost to launch browser-based player

Company's desktop client failed to catch on with the public, so the Web video service is retooling, but is it too late to catch up to Hulu and Google's YouTube?

Joost isn't letting the public try out the site yet but that will change soon.

Finally, Joost is going to correct the error that badly hobbled the Web video service many once considered to be a serious YouTube competitor.

Currently available for Windows and Mac, Joost is planning to launch a test version of its new site later this month that will feature a browser-based plug-in and will no longer require users to watch via the company's much maligned desktop client. In a not so surprising move, users will be able to embed Joost's videos.

CEO Mike Volpi acknowledged in an interview with CNET that the desktop client was one of the company's missteps but that the new browser-based player would provide ease of use, a high-quality video experience, and more content. The new site, according to Volpi, will even be less taxing on laptop batteries. News of Joost's new site was first reported by The Industry Standard.

But the big question that Joost must answer is whether the site overhaul comes too late to catch to Hulu or Google's YouTube.

Joost pounced onto the online-video scene with seemingly the right combination of founders, investors, and technology. The media instantly christened it a legitimate YouTube killer.

The start-up was the brainchild of Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, the founders of Skype and Kazaa. Among the backers were media conglomerates Viacom and CBS, parent company of CNET, publisher of News.com. Joost was powered by the same peer-to-peer technology that turned Skype and Kazaa into the most disruptive forces in the telephone and music sectors, respectively.

The public wasn't impressed. The content offering was thin. The player often stalled or stuttered, and it relied on the desktop client--meaning that you couldn't just log on to the Web from any computer to access your Joost account.

Volpi came on a year ago, and not much changed until January, when the company's CTO left and Volpi initiated a house cleaning. Volpi says it's still too early in the game to crown any site a winner.

"There is still ample opportunity to create a portal or aggregation site," Volpi said in an interview last week. "People will go where they can find the content they want."

Yes, but are Web video fans already used to getting what they want at Hulu, the company created by NBC Universal and News Corp? The competitor launched last spring to glowing press reviews, and traffic has continued to mushroom. A report issued this week by LiveRail reported that Hulu is probably already generating as much revenue as YouTube, which launched in 2005.

When it comes to YouTube, the Google property is still far and away the Internet's most popular video site. More than a third of every video viewed online is at YouTube. But YouTube is a user-generated site, with most of its content 10 minutes or shorter. Joost is much more like Hulu, a distribution platform for mostly professionally made content.

Volpi said Joost has greatly enhanced the content selection. The site will feature shows from Warner Bros., CBS, and Comedy Central, as well as other Viacom properties. Volpi said Joost will eventually offer a greater selection than Hulu. Volpi said Hulu offered little outside of the shows from NBC and Fox.

He called the selection "tired."

Joost's videos will follow a five-second advertisement or "preroll." Despite enabling users to embed video, the site will not concentrate on syndicating content.

"Our plan is to be a destination site where people go to watch their favorite shows," Volpi said.