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Apple opens up QuickTime

The company is clearly gunning for its Internet broadcasting competitors by opening up portions of code behind its QuickTime technology for all to see.

LAS VEGAS--Apple is clearly gunning for Internet broadcasting competitors Microsoft and Real Networks at this week's National Association of Broadcasters trade show by opening portions of code behind its QuickTime technology for all to see.

Apple Computer today announced that it would make the server version of the new QuickTime Streaming software in the open source domain, as first reported by CNET News.com. Apple also made similar moves with portions of the Mac OS X operating system.

QuickTime 4.0 offers the ability to do live streaming, which allows content to be played while it is being downloaded, instead of making users wait until the transfer has finished. Because the company is making parts of the technology available in the so-called open-source arena, the server version of the software that sends data to a user's computer can be modified to run on Windows NT and Unix servers, as well as on the Macintosh.

By allowing companies to modify QuickTime and easily include it in their own software or multimedia titles, Apple is hoping to drive rapid and wide acceptance of the newest version of the software. Real Networks, in particular, could start to lose market share because of the changes.

"From this day forward, content providers, ISPs, and network managers will have a choice--they will not be forced to pay a server tax to Real Networks for their proprietary server software," said Steve Jobs, Apple's interim chief executive, in a statement.

Apple is touting features of QuickTime Streaming Server running on Mac OS X Server, which include:
• The ability to serve over 1,000 simultaneous audio and video streams at modem-rate connections;
• no 'per stream' charges,
• other use of industry standard streaming file formats.

Additionally, Apple has gained some sales support from IBM and SGI, who will be offering QuickTime streaming software on IBM's new VideoCharger multimedia server and SGI's WebForce MediaBase media streaming system, respectively.

Apple's move underscores the growing strategic importance of multimedia streaming technologies, as companies such as Yahoo explore new ways to keep viewers tuned in to their sites. Yahoo recently announced its intention to purchase Net broadcaster Broadcast.com-- which hosts internal corporate broadcasts, quarterly earnings calls, and other forms of high-bandwidth services--for about $5.7 billion.

The broadcasters conference here is focusing on multimedia broadcasting because both local affiliates and the traditional network broadcasters are looking at ways to stem the loss of viewers to the Internet, all while figuring out ways to increase their revenues. With huge quantities of video and audio material already available, many are going to the show to find ways to bring this content online.

Competition is a moving target
With a significant amount of interest in the topic built up already, Apple's announcement is well-timed to take advantage of that interest. But Apple is up against some stiff competition, and its rivals have a substantial head start in the market. Microsoft and RealNetworks already have widely used streaming products available, and Microsoft has been busy lining up prominent Web sites to use its NetShow streaming technology, offering them technical support and marketing money.

Real Networks isn't standing still either. The company announced deals with AT&T, Sprint, and others to extend its software to network hubs and connect those hubs with high-speed backbones--all to improve the quality of streaming content, especially when large numbers of users are tuned in.

Real Networks is also working with Sun Microsystems on software technology that translates MPEG-2 content, which is fast becoming the standard content type for broadcasters who are going digital, and turn that into a file format that can be streamed from Real's server platform. The availability of such software, which is expected in the third quarter, could help persuade broadcasters to go with Real's technology.

Apple's hope is that by giving independent developers access to the original programming instructions, they can tweak software for particular purposes and in turn make it more attractive to customers. Apple, in turn, gets not only increased market share, but also improvements to the software that developers contribute, accelerating the whole product development cycle.

QuickTime available, Final Cut ships
Apple is offering its first public prototype version of The QuickTime 4.0 software, as previously reported. The software was initially slated to get its official launch at January's Macworld trade show.

It features a sleek, easier-to-use interface design and a host of new technical capabilities, including the ability to playback and stream MP3 files, and enhanced content editing features.

Apple has registered the domain name QT-TV.net in support of the new software's rollout. While Apple's exact plans for the site are not known, sources close to Apple speculated that the company will use the site to showcase its technology in much the same fashion that Real Networks does with its site.

Meanwhile, Real Networks isn't the only company Apple is going after: It released new video editing software called Final Cut Pro that will place it in competition against Adobe Systems, a longtime developer of Mac software.

Apple said the software offers professional-quality video editing, compositing, and special effects and will sell for $999. The software is currently available in the U.S., with worldwide availability slated for later this year.

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