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Macromedia tunes in to audio streaming

Macromedia will jump into the audio streaming market against RealAudio.

Macromedia will announce Monday that it is jumping into the audio streaming market, directly taking on the dominant RealAudio player from Progressive Networks, sources have told CNET.

Macromedia will announce a new version of its Shockwave plug-in for Web browsers. 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.

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 Web 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. But because so many Web sites have already standardized on RealAudio, Macromedia and Lucent will face uphill battles to get developers to accept another standard.

"Unless there's some particular synergy with their other products, I'm skeptical about another audio standard," said Alex Mann, principle at Mann Consulting. "They better bring something new to the party."

The company already 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 Shockwave audio plug-in will dovetail with another Macromedia audio design tool called SoundEdit. The company also has plans to do a video editing tool and will likely extend it to the Net via Shockwave.

The Shockwave viewer is currently available as a plug-in for Navigator and is currently being revamped as an ActiveX control for Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 browser.

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.

Macromedia officials declined to comment on the announcement scheduled for next week. In a speech at Intel's Internet strategy briefing today, however, Macromedia CEO Bud Colligan mentioned that the company would be making an announcement regarding streaming audio Monday.