Although RealNetworks Inc. is currently the leader in streaming media market share, it faces several competitors, the biggest of which is Microsoft Corp. and its Windows Media Technologies.
Since Microsoft first decided to compete in the streaming media arena a few years ago and introduced the NetShow line, its products, although solid, have consistently been a step behind RealNetworks in both quality and technology.
With the release of Windows Media Technologies 7 this fall, Microsoft closed the gap for a short time, providing high-quality content. The products also included several unique and useful features, including the ability to stream directly from a screen capture and support for Pocket PC devices.
However, now that all the Version 8 products in the RealNetworks lineup are available, Windows Media Technologies is back in its usual spot of being very good but not quite as good as the RealNetworks content. Perhaps realizing this, Microsoft recently released an early beta of the audio and video for Windows Media Technologies 8, including a very basic and limited command-line encoder for these formats.
From eWeek Labs survey of samples on the Microsoft site, the quality appears to be very good, but the encoder didnt support the MPEG format in which our high-quality test files were encoded.
The Windows Media Technologies suite might eventually catch up to RealNetworks offerings in terms of quality, but it will still have to overcome several weaknesses endemic to being a Microsoft product—the most important of which is reliance on Windows. RealNetworks servers run on a variety of Unix platforms, as well as on Windows NT and Windows 2000.
In contrast, to get the latest streaming media server capabilities from Microsoft, a business must run Windows 2000 Advanced Server.
In addition, all of Windows Media Technologies encoding and development tools are Windows-based, making them less attractive to often Macintosh- centric content developers and many companies.
Both Windows Media Technologies 7 and the new Version 8 beta can be downloaded for more information and testing from www.microsoft.com/windowsmedia.