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QuickTime upgrade aims at Microsoft

Apple Computer's multimedia software is due for a January technology boost that will again place it in Microsoft's path.

Apple Computer's QuickTime multimedia software is due for a technology boost that will again place it squarely in the path of Microsoft.

Apple is working to release a new version of its popular QuickTime program at the upcoming Macworld Expo in January 1999. For the first time, the software will include the ability to send live video and audio streams over the Internet, according to industry sources familiar with the course of development.

In other words, the new version will offer technology for playing audio and video that addresses QuickTime's current shortcomings and puts it on par with features in the rival Microsoft technology. That could be enough to cement its market share lead.

Apple declined to comment.

First demonstrated publicly in May of this year, the new version of QuickTime is sure to raise the hackles of executives at Microsoft, which has tangled with Apple in the past, according to testimony in the Justice Department's antitrust case against the software giant.

Microsoft has been busy lining up prominent Web sites to use its NetShow streaming technology, offering them technical support and marketing money. Takers include Bloomberg, CBS, CNN Interactive, Warner Bros. Online, and CNET: The Computer Network (publisher of News.com).

But QuickTime is the most popular software product of this type apart from those bundled with the Windows operating system, such as the competing Media Player, according to estimates from Media Metrix. Apple's QuickTime was installed on 23.9 million Windows PCs, or 67.6 percent of the Windows PCs market, as of March 1998.

The addition of streaming technology to QuickTime could persuade a number of content developers to use Apple's technology instead of Microsoft's. The battle is an important one because Microsoft's control of its own technology is threatened, as are new and growing sources of revenue.

"The big thing is the [multimedia] player market because you can push all kinds of retail opportunities from that. If you own the playback [mechanism], you have a link back to all other sales," said one developer, who, like others who spoke to CNET News.com, wished to remain anonymous because he develops products for both technologies.

For example, if someone played a sample song or video from a new CD, it's possible for companies to arrange to get payment for providing the link to a site that sells the product. "If QuickTime doesn't work from the player side, they're locked out" of such opportunities, the source said.

The importance of maintaining control has been highlighted by accusations against Microsoft that it has leveraged its position as the dominant supplier of operating systems to keep out competition in other markets.

In court testimony, Apple senior vice president Avadis Tevanian accused Microsoft of purposely creating problems for the QuickTime multimedia player in Windows after Apple refused to cede the market for Windows players to Microsoft. Microsoft, in turn, recently claimed that the problems were caused by poorly written Apple software, not Microsoft's Windows operating system.

"Multimedia is the one area where we have a disagreement with Microsoft on," said Russell Brady, an Apple spokesperson. Brady declined to comment further on the dispute.

Microsoft issued a similar defense to Apple's charges over the summer after Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks, said Windows disabled his company's Internet multimedia player. Microsoft said RealNetworks' problems were caused by faulty design, not incompatibilities created by Microsoft.

Like Glaser, Tevanian was unable to show any definitive proof that Microsoft deliberately caused incompatibilities with competing products, though some software developers say there is anecdotal evidence.

Microsoft said it posted a fix for the QuickTime problem on its Web site. Yet after installing the fix, one developer said that the Internet Explorer browser was still not able to play back QuickTime content.

He said this happens because Microsoft's Media Player does not support all of the QuickTime functions, even though it is supposed to be capable of playing back QuickTime files.

Other developers remain leery of Microsoft because of such incompatibilities. According to one who insisted on anonymity, "There are enough places where things don't work as expected to make me suspicious."

"Can it be proved [that Microsoft does it intentionally]? Probably not. There are lots of ways to dodge around the issue," he said.

Microsoft was not available for comment.