Streaming Media

 

Streams of Thought: Learning to Love Another
In which an unabashed Apple lover finds a newfound admiration for Microsoft
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It’s often said that you never get over your first love. I can attest to that, as I cut my teeth on QuickTime (QT) in the age of QuickTime Conferencing. 

It was a very brief and fleeting encounter, as were most things in the Mac universe during the time of Steve Jobs’ banishment, and QT Conferencing soon met its demise. But I was impressionable and was wowed by the ability to do in software what used to take rooms full of hardware.

Once I saw that the Mac and its nascent QuickTime were viable contenders in the world of computing, I never looked back.

Until recently, that is. While I still use a Macbook Pro as a primary machine, with an operating system (OS X) that—for the most part—makes me enjoy using the Mac every day, I’m beginning to re-assess.

The object of my newfound interest is a bit surprising: Microsoft.

I won’t call it affection because it’s not, and I almost feel like I’m in a 12-step program to admit there’s even an inkling of admiration. But I have to say a combination of Microsoft’s newest operating system and media services groups is turning my head. 

The two companies aren’t really as bitter rivals as the urban myths would have one believe: Microsoft has a successful Mac-based business unit from which it continues to churn out decent to better-than-average applications such as the new Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. 

Apple owes its existence partly to Bill Gates’ smart business decision to put up $150 million in 1997 for exclusive Internet Explorer desktop rights. How well I remember the shock of that news: I was working in Palo Alto, Calif., at the time, and I remember reading a long article about Jobs and a Microsoft rep strolling around Palo Alto discussing the deal. Almost reminds me of another Palo Alto stroll that occurred in more recent news, also including Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

So why the sudden interest in Microsoft? It first started with Windows 7, which is the most Mac-like of Windows operating systems. Even though it shares a few of the Vista quirks (“Are you sure you want to press that button again?”), it’s the best operating Windows operating system I’ve used since, well, ever. 

I live and work in a three-OS world, between Linux, UNIX (Mac), and Windows, so I’m always looking for easier ways to transition between the three. Windows 7 now replaces my aging but stalwart Windows XP virtual machine, and I find myself starting to wish for Windows 7 features in Mac OS X.

Then, last year, I saw Internet Information Services 7 (IIS 7), which put H.264 on an almost-equal footing with Microsoft’s own VC-1 codec. At this year’s IBC, Microsoft demonstrated a streaming solution that didn’t just provide live adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming to Microsoft-powered mobile devices but also streamed the same content to Apple’s iOS devices. 

I spent a few days in Redmond afterward, and I saw the humanizing factor of Microsoft approaching Apple’s devices as an equally valid option in the marketplace. 

It’s almost been like watching two friends, who constantly come to you to bad-mouth the other, begin to make up. Except, unlike those friends, who have the tendency to make you their common enemy after they’ve made up, it seems Microsoft’s willing to live peaceably with all (and I won’t even begin to get into the rumors of the Adobe-Microsoft merger discussions because that would be going a bit too far with the metaphor). 

I explore IIS 7 and Media Services 4, the solution set that makes Live Smooth Streaming to the iPad and iPhone possible, elsewhere in this issue, but I’ll say it here: Microsoft, you’ve got my attention again.

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