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RealNetworks to launch download product

The streaming firm on Monday is expected to jump into the world of MP3 and other digital music download formats with a product called Jukebox, sources say.

RealNetworks on Monday is expected to jump into the world of MP3 and other digital music download formats with a product called Jukebox, according to sources familiar with the plan.

A company spokesman would not discuss RealNetworks' plan except to reiterate that an announcement was planned for Monday. But CNET News.com spoke with four sources who have seen the product and been briefed by RealNetworks. The domain name "RealJukebox.com" was registered by the company earlier this month, according to the Whois database.

Jukebox is a client-side application that converts, or "rips," compact discs and translates them into a digital file format, the sources said. The product also automatically enters information such as song title and artist into a manageable database for music downloaded from the Internet or CDs.

Jukebox is being launched in response to the explosive growth of MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3), a compression format that allows for easy downloading of music files onto a PC hard drive or portable MP3 player. Although the format itself is legal, it lacks copyright protections, and the music industry has cracked down on sites offering illegally copied music. But thousands of amateur artists and several high-profile professionals have embraced the technology to distribute their music on the Net.

Jukebox also is Real's first product for use with MP3, but Real on Monday is expected to announce support for other formats as well. Until now, RealNetworks has concentrated on real-time streaming media, both audio and video, as opposed to download technology.

Real made its first foray into the MP3 market with the acquisition this month of Xing Technology.

People familiar with Jukebox praised the offering.

"It's very elegant software in terms of taking what has been relatively difficult to use and making it much less complicated and more intuitive," said one source who had seen the product.

"It's pretty damn cool," was another's assessment.

The announcement comes in the wake of Yahoo's proposed acquisition of Broadcast.com, which brought the strategy of RealNetworks and other Webcasters into the spotlight. In addition to keeping up with the MP3 craze, Jukebox is Real's latest effort to compete in the Internet audio space. Microsoft, which is struggling to chip away at Real's 85 percent market share in streaming media, earlier this month released an updated version of its Windows Media Technologies.

Earlier this week, RealNetworks named Edward Bleier, president of domestic pay-TV, cable and network features for Warner Bros., to its board.