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Macromedia dives into audio stream

The multimedia company jumped into audio streaming with a new version of Shockwave.

Macromedia announced today that it is jumping into the audio streaming market with a new version of its Shockwave plug-in for Web browsers.

As reported last week by CNET, the new Shockwave will pit the company directly against the dominant RealAudio player from Progressive Networks. But competition in the streaming audio field will not be confined to Macromedia and Progressive Networks. Lucent Technologies is also developing audio streaming technology, according to sources familiar with their plans, a scenario that could confuse Web developers and users unsure of which technology to use.

Macromedia's new Shockwave plug-in is available on the company's Web site today.

Streaming audio allows Net users to listen to audio clips while they are in the process of being downloaded from Web sites, instead of having to wait until they have been completely downloaded to the hard disk. A number of sites, including cnet.com, use the technology to host taped radio shows or live audio broadcasts on the Internet.

RealAudio has captured a good portion of the existing audience for streamed audio, although a couple of vendors of video streaming technology, including VDONet and Xing Technologies, also include audio components.

Because so many Web sites have already standardized on RealAudio, Macromedia and Lucent will face uphill battles to get developers to accept another standard. However, Macromedia could gain an edge with its audio streaming technology because of the popularity of its Shockwave technologies among multimedia and Web developers.

The company currently offers three flavors of its Shockwave plug-in technology--for Director, Freehand, and Authorware--which allow users of those authoring tools to embed multimedia applets into Web pages. The new audio streaming capabilities are being added to by far the most popular edition of its plug-ins, Shockwave for Director.

Also, the company's Shockwave audio technology is expected to beat RealAudio on price because it uses standard Web servers to deliver sound clips, rather than requiring a specialized audio server such as the RealAudio Server. Instead of servers, Macromedia hopes its audio streaming technology will drive demand for SoundEdit audio design tool and Director software. The company also has plans to do a video editing tool and will likely extend it to the Net via Shockwave.

Macromedia has long hinted that it intends to get into the streaming field. Last March, company officials said Macromedia might partner with other vendors, including Progressive Networks, to provide the underlying audio streaming technology for Shockwave. But the company appears to have ended up developing its streaming technology in-house instead.