NetShow 2.1 follows the 2.0 release in August, when the software giant and RealNetworks--formerly known as Progressive Networks--signed a deal to work with each other's streaming technology.
Microsoft licensed the popular RealNetworks formats, while Real pledged to support Microsoft's ASF (Active Streaming Format) file format in its future product releases. Microsoft has a nonvoting minority stake in RealNetworks and purchased outright another video streaming company, VXtreme--activity that contributed to a Justice Department antitrust inquiry of the company.
NetShow uses ASF to regulate the downloading of audio and video files from a server to a client machine. Overshadowed in the past by RealNetworks, Microsoft now hopes to consolidate the young streaming media market around ASF.
The NetShow 2.1 upgrade will let Web sites use audio and video already created in the Real format and stream it with NetShow servers. NetShow players on users' desktops also will support such content. Microsoft has also added versions of the player for Windows 3.1, Macintosh, Linux, Solaris, SunOS, and HP-UX.
Another addition to NetShow 2.1 is the Theater Server, which will stream full-screen, "broadcast-quality" video over broadband networks, said NetShow product manager Mike Ahern. Theater Server will work over ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) and fast Ethernet connections, he said.
NetShow client and server products currently are free, but Microsoft plans to add some advanced streaming features next year to its for-fee SiteServer Web server to allow Web sites to charge for access to their multimedia content. NetShow 3.0 also will remain a separate, free product and will retain "everything that's in NetShow today," according to Ahern.