Attaching its wagon to the powerful MP3 train, Realnetworks on Monday announced Realjukebox, an all-in-one music player, recorder and organiser for the Internet.
Realjukebox provides a single interface for playing back and recording music, organising audio clips and searching for music on the Web. The software will for instance allow consumers to download songs from the Web, then save them to a CD.
It will support Realnetworks' own Real Audio G2 audio format, as well as MP3 but not the recently announced Windows Media Technologies (WMT) 4.0 from Microsoft.
"This definitely makes it much easier to download music from the Web," commented said Sujata Ramnarayan, an analyst with Dataquest. "They're not really doing anything new, but they are taking what's already out there and making it more easy to use."
With its Real Player G2 technology, Realnetworks dominates the market for real time audio broadcasting or streaming over the Internet. The company now hopes to use this position to become a major player in the broader market for online music.
The company is also embracing the popular MP3 audio format, to help it achieve its goals. Last month it acquired MP3 software developer Xing Technology.
The MP3 format is unpopular with record labels, who are unhappy with its lack of copyright protection, but users have flocked to it because of the wide availability of MP3 audio content on the Internet.
Last month, Microsoft announced its Windows Media Technologies 4.0, which also supports MP3 but to a more limited extent. Microsoft is promoting its own audio format, which it claims offers copyright protection and better compression than MP3.
But analysts applauded Real Networks' decision to fully play the MP3 card. "It's fairly trivial to add support [for a copyright-protected audio format] later on," said Lucas Graves, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. Microsoft may currently offer better copyright protection in WMT 4.0, said Graves, but record labels are wary of throwing in their lot with Microsoft.
Meanwhile, Realnetworks' strong brand name and the popularity of MP3 make Realjukebox a strong contender to become the de facto standard music platform for the Internet and the PC, argued Graves.
The beta version of Realjukebox is available for free download at Realnetworks' website. The company also announced a server platform for digital music delivery called Realsystem MP, and a website called Real Guide that offers free music downloads.
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