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MP3 rival Ogg Vorbis gets Real

RealNetworks, the most recent corporate convert to open-source religion, pledges to embrace streaming media's open-source stalwart in a move that could threaten the popular MP3 format.

RealNetworks, the most recent corporate convert to open-source religion, has pledged to embrace streaming media's open-source stalwart in a move that could threaten the popular MP3 format.

RealNetworks said Wednesday that it would support the Xiph.org Foundation's Ogg Vorbis format and audio codec, or compression formula, in its own open-source offering, the Helix DNA client, and that the RealOne Player and the Helix Universal Server would play and serve Ogg Vorbis.

That means that people could play Ogg Vorbis content through the widely distributed RealPlayer without having to download special Ogg Vorbis software, a potentially big win for the now-obscure technology.

RealNetworks claims 285 million unique registered users of the RealOne Player and RealPlayer.

"The ability to use RealNetworks technology to get our format into the hands of the masses presents a lot of potential," Xiph President Emmett Plant said in a statement. "Even more important, the fact that RealNetworks is making an investment in open source outside of their corporate walls is a good sign for the future of Helix."

Xiph released Ogg Vorbis 1.0 last week.

Open-source advocates hailed the news, saying it benefited not only the format itself, but the progress of open-source software into the mainstream.

That could come at a cost to other popular technologies encumbered by intellectual property claims.

"The fact that the user will almost automatically get Ogg on their desktop means that there is a patent-free and royalty-free audio format that everyone can play on every computer," said Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative. "This means that MP3 may become a little less popular over the long term because there are patent issues on MP3."

While MP3 has become enormously popular thanks to its small file size and good quality, it remains subject to royalties paid to the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics and other members of the MPEG Consortium, which control the format.

RealNetworks and Xiph plan to release Ogg Vorbis plug-ins for the RealOne Player and the Helix Universal Server. The plug-ins will be small pieces of code that let the RealOne Player play back Ogg content.

RealNetworks gave no timeline for the plug-ins. The work with Xiph is just starting, with both development and certification that needs to be done, the company said.