Microsoft has taken a step forward in the streaming audio and video market with the purchase of a minority stake in streaming specialist Progressive Networks.
Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will buy a 10% equity in Progressive Networks, best known for its flagship multimedia streaming products RealAudio and RealVideo, used by many web sites to allow surfers to watch and listen to realtime audio and video across the Internet. The company estimates that there are 20 million RealAudio players currently in distribution, and up to 12 million RealAudio and RealVideo players in regular use around the world.
Microsoft will license RealAudio and RealVideo technology from the company.
Progressive's RealPlayer will be bundled with Internet Explorer 4.0. In return, Progressive has agreed to implement certain aspects of Microsoft's own similar technology, including the ASF (Active Streaming Format), Microsoft's proprietary streaming standard.
"Microsoft believes streaming audio and video technology is and will continue to be a critical technology for providing rich information on the Internet and corporate intranets," commented Paul Maritz, group vice president of platforms and applications at Microsoft, announcing the deal.
"We look forward to working together."
"Progressive Networks and Microsoft will accelerate the availability of compelling audio and video content on the Internet," added Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of Progressive Networks.
Microsoft would not comment on whether the agreement means the company will drop its own NetShow media server, its answer to the RealAudio and Video products.
Microsoft's licensing of RealAudio and Video is intended to give the company an advantage in the Internet browser stakes. However, browser rival Netscape has dismissed the agreement as "no big deal".
Netscape already has a relationship with Progressive Networks, as the pair have worked together on the RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol).
Currently with the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), this protocol is expected to be ratified later this year. Netscape claims interoperability between streaming technologies is guaranteed by the RTSP standard alone.
Netscape also believes that the purchase of an equity stake in Progressive Networks "furthers Microsoft's goal of becoming a broadcast content provider.
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