RealNetworks is opening up the source code for its next-generation RealPlayer multimedia streaming software, but an open source evangelist has complained that the initiative does not go far enough.
The open source Helix software claims to handle more than 55 media formats, including RealNetworks' RealMedia, Apple's Quicktime and Microsoft's Media Player. But there are suggestions that the announcement is not all it claims to be.
"While RealNetworks is making a significant contribution to open source, today's release does not include the crown jewels, i.e. their codecs, the encoding and decoding software for their proprietary RealAudio and RealVideo formats," said Bruce Perens, an open source campaigner.
He explained that the greatest beneficiary of RealNetworks' contribution could be the Ogg Vorbis audio format.
Ogg Vorbis is a fully open source codec, unfettered by patents and royalty payment requirements, and offers audio quality comparable to, or better than, its proprietary counterparts.
According to RealNetworks, the Helix core engine has been developed over the past seven years and signifies a change in the company's direction.
Microsoft has been able to eat into RealNetworks' market share by giving away its Media Player software and server products in much the same way that it beat Netscape in the browser wars.
RealNetworks admitted that the main reason for taking the open source path was to prevent Microsoft gaining dominance in the streaming market.
The latest figures from NetRatings show that RealMedia reached 17 million at-home viewers in April compared to Media Player's 15.1 million.
Helix is designed to allow companies to consolidate their streaming media servers. At present a company would stream RealMedia content from a Unix or Linux server while using a separate Windows 2000 box to stream Media Player.
The new Helix Universal Server would render a separate Windows 2000 server unnecessary.
"We used multiple streaming formats to support a variety of campus and external communications, a process that can be expensive and cumbersome," said Joel Hoy, media services architect at Northwestern University in Chicago.
He added that he was "extremely impressed" by the software's ability to stream competing formats, which allowed the university to consolidate its infrastructure and reduce costs.
RealNetworks intends to make the initial client source code, the Helix DNA Client, available in the next three months and to release server source code by the end of the year.
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