Linux users should get a port of RealNetworks' new multimedia browser early next year. RealOne, which combines a Web browser with RealPlayer technology in a single window for delivering subscription content, is in preview mode right now for the Windows platform. The first beta is due in November and the final launch before Christmas, according to RealNetworks.
RealNetworks' agnostic strategy stands in marked contrast to Microsoft's current plans for Windows Media Player.
The browser portion of RealOne is built on Microsoft Internet Explorer, but a Linux version would use another browser. RealNetworks officials were not able to say which browser would be used, but said the integration would be a reasonably easy process. "The porting is in the planning stages now," said RealNetworks pre-sales manager Alex Murh. "We will pick the best browser for the job -- it could be Opera or it could be Mozilla."
Joanna Shields, vice president for Europe, said Linux remains an important platform for RealNetworks. "The whole philosophy is to support every operating system and every protocol (including Windows Media). Linux is making big strides in the desktop market, and is hugely important. We don't agree with Microsoft's view."
Microsoft does not support RealNetworks' file formats in Windows Media Player, and despite selling a Media Player software development kit for Windows, Mac and Solaris platforms, does not distribute one for the Linux platform, citing a "lack of demand". The software development kit is necessary for creating software that can decode Microsoft's Digital Rights Management used for viewing or listening to subscription-based content.
Eric Huggers, European business development manager of Microsoft's Digital Media Division, said, "We have players available for Mac, Solaris, Pocket PC and Windows. Until now we have honestly not seen the demand for Linux player offering." Asked about an SDK that would let developers build an application for Linux that was able to play content protected by Microsoft's Digital Rights Management technology, Huggers said: "If that is what our users demand then we would treat it the same (as the other platforms). We will have to go back and look again." Huggers did not say how Microsoft measures demand.
RealNetworks' director for Northern Europe, George Fraser, was quick to jump on what he called the poor support by Microsoft of Digital Rights Management even on the company's own platforms. "We go right back to Windows 95, but Microsoft only goes back as far as Windows 98, and the is no support in Windows NT 4.0 for DRM." Fraser cited the case of Granada TV, where many staff use Windows NT 4.0 on the desktop and so cannot view the paid-for media that it streamed in Windows Media Format. "That's why they give their technology away like they do," he said, "it forces people to upgrade (their operating systems)."
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