The company's RealPlayer software has become practically synonymous with viewing and listening to media over the Net. The free distribution of the software has turned many Web sites into grassroots radio stations and video servers. On the development side, the company offers the RealPublisher tool. The latest 5.1 release lets developers stream third-party media files to the RealPlayer.
Specifically, the latest upgrade allows users of Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software and Adobe's Premiere video editing software to turn their work into RealMedia files. The files then can be distributed either by attaching them to email or by streaming them from a Web server.
RealNetworks may enjoy ongoing Internet popularity, but Microsoft has put itself in the catbird seat of the streaming media business. Redmond not only bundles free clients with its browser but also has bought or invested in several streaming companies in the past year, moves that have brought on a Justice Department investigation. The investigation remains open but on a separate track from the current suit that alleges Microsoft has violated a 1995 consent agreement that prohibits it from tying the sale of Windows to any other application, such as the Internet Explorer browser.
Real has had to both partner with Microsoft--each company supports each other's streaming technologies--and compete with it. Microsoft has made minority investments in Real and VDONet and bought VXtreme outright. Redmond also has entered into licensing and marketing agreements with both Real and Starlight Networks, which supplies software to companies who want to stream media within the company networks.