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Microsoft tests streaming software

The software giant says a number of Web multimedia packages and a new animation tool have entered beta testing.

Microsoft said today that a number of streaming media packages and a new Web animation tool have entered beta testing.

The company announced a beta version of NetShow 3.0 server, which runs on the company's Windows NT Server operating system and provides streaming multimedia to end-users at bandwidths ranging from 2.4 kbps to 500 kbps.

Because NetShow integrates with Microsoft Office, the BackOffice family, and third-party applications, content providers can take advantage of services such as ad insertion, commerce, and security, Microsoft said.

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant also released the beta version of Media Player, its multimedia client, which allows users to play back local and streamed multimedia types including ASF, AVI, WAV, MPEG, and QuickTime, along with RealAudio and RealVideo content. The company said users will no longer need to download and configure multiple players to access different types of files.

RealPlayer also includes the codec auto-download feature which allows users to take advantage of improvements in Microsoft and third-party compression technology easily.

The company started public beta testing on a new version of its NetShow Theater Server, a high-end, video server for delivering MPEG 1 and 2 video over high-speed networks. The server is aimed at content providers requiring high-quality video streaming and delivery.

Microsoft, predictably, sees big things happening in streaming media. "We believe the use of streaming media will take off like the Web did a few years ago," said Gary Schare, a NetShow product manager.

Microsoft also announced a beta version of its Liquid Motion 1.0 Web multimedia and animation tool, which lets users develop animation content regardless of what browser they're using. Following a beta test period, slated to end next month, Liquid Motion will be priced at $149 as a stand-alone product and at $54 for FrontPage users.

Pricing for the NetShow server products will be released in four to six months, the company said.