Everyone loves an underdog. The press this morning was full of the story of RealNetworks's attempt to swipe food out of the mouth of Microsoft. Real is doing this in two ways. First, it is introducing server software, dubbed Helix, that can produce streaming media in a number of formats, including Apple's and Microsoft's, and it runs on platforms other than Windows. Second, Real has laid out a timetable for making some of Helix's source code available for free to developers in the open-source community.
ComputerWire (in a story carried in the Register) called Real's open-source initiative the company's "boldest and riskiest move to date." CNET's News.com characterized it as "the latest in a series of strategic twists and turns that has made RealNetworks one of the only companies to survive direct Microsoft competition for years." InternetNews said Real had "(thrown) down a digital media gauntlet," and the Boston Globe called Helix a "head-on challenge to Microsoft Corp." Can't you just smell the glee?
The New York Times's John Markoff broke the story of Real's plans for Helix on Sunday (as credited by CNET). Having scooped it, the Times covered the actual announcement with perfunctory Reuters copy. The Wall Street Journal gave the story short shrift, assigning it to an unnamed staff reporter who manifestly doesn't get the concept of open-source software. (Here's a clue: Microsoft's decision to give away the Windows Media Player client has nothing whatsoever to do with open source.) The Globe evidenced a larger clue quotient on the disruptive power of the open source meme. Reporter Hiawatha Bray quoted a Forrester analyst thus: "Once you put your media into the open-source community, any feature that you need can be built. It's very difficult to compete with that."
Slashdot carried the definitive statement of what Real's moves actually mean to the open-source community. Bruce Perens, one of the gods of that movement, attended the Real press conference, reported from there live via wireless laptop, and sent an analysis to Slashdot. The Register provided a fair summary of Perens's piece for a more general, but still techie, audience. - Keith Dawson
Real's WMP, Open Source moves risk Redmond ire (ComputerWire)
Real takes the open-source route
RealNetworks Throws Down Digital Media Gauntlet
Real Networks takes on Microsoft server software (Boston Globe)
RealNetworks Poses Challenge to Microsoft
RealNetworks Launches Versatile Streaming Server (Reuters)
RealNetworks Will Offer Code For Its Helix Software for Free
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Part Open Source, Part Not (Bruce Perens)
Bruce Perens on Real's Open Source gambit