On your mark, get set, go: The race for streaming media is on

Editor’s Note: While Dana Greenlee is back from Florida, this week Rob Greenlee fills in to write today’s technology column. Enjoy.

You may be a “streamie” and not even know it. Most “streamies,” or online users of audio and video on the Internet, have two or more media players on their PC’s. The current finish line looks like this: The Real Player and “RealOne” is on 68 percent of all PC’s, the Windows Media Player is on 60-plus percent and Apple’s QuickTime would be lucky to be at 50 percent of all Internet connected PC’s. The dirty little secret about the QuickTime player is that most downloads and installs are not by choice, but are forced installs. The forced download installs are a result of people wanting to view online video-on-demand movie trailers (VOD) and game software. Windows Media Player comes pre-installed in Windows XP and 2000. The Real Player/RealOne is the only online media players that a “streamie” chooses to download or purchase.

I have never had trouble getting the free versions of the Real Player or the Windows Media Player. Sure, Seattle-based Real Networks wants to sell their upgrade version. Real Networks is a for profit company that must survive and bring a return to investors. I have supported Real with purchases of other Real software products. I am also a $9.95 per month subscriber to the new RealOne premium content channels. And I’m not alone. Over 500,000 subscribers are paying for the RealOne premium content. I can get ABCNews.com Video-On-Demand of missed newscasts and last nights full Nightline. The RealOne player/media browser does a very good job and is way ahead of Microsoft’s current player.

Another side of online audio wars is the race for the online content provider. Both Microsoft and Real Networks want content creators to use their streaming media software servers. This is a choice you don’t have to make. I’ve been a content creator of streaming media for over three years and I don’t use Real or Windows Media Server to stream WebTalkGuys Radio. I do http-based audio streaming only. You can stream unlimited streaming content from a regular Web server, without the software server. I have been doing it for years.

Truth be told, the Real Networks server software is expensive. I didn’t buy a server from them, but some people did and that was good for Real and a big reason they are still in business today. I have been thankful about that for years. They could have figured a way to take that away. While the Windows Media server is free when you buy their Windows 2000 Server operating system, there is no reason to use it. With using http streaming, content providers can stream for free on all other operating system platforms, as long as you don’t need or want all of the advanced features.

Real Networks is the leader in this space because they have stuck out their necks and taken chances, and that has kept them ahead of Microsoft. We should be supportive of Real Networks as they were and still are the pioneers in the streaming media space on the net.

My opinion is that Windows Media will soon surpass Real in market share, but Real will always be the premium choice for me – and a choice worth paying for.

For more information on streaming, go to: www.real.com; www.realguide.com; www.windowsmedia.com.

Rob Greenlee is Founder/Host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show. WebTalkGuys is a Seattle/Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast on CNET Radio in San Francisco and Boston, on the Web at: