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RealNetworks Licenses Microsoft's Windows Media Audio Technology

Is the battle between rivals Microsoft and RealNetworks over?

In a surprise announcement today, Microsoft ( http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/) said that RealNetworks (http://www.realnetworks.com) has licensed Microsoft's Windows Media Audio technology for use in its company's products.

What this means is that secure Windows Media audio will be playable on RealNetworks' software, like RealJukebox.

Will Windows Media become the de facto standard for digital audio? Microsoft says, yes. Already they have over 70 licensees for its Software Development Kit (SDK) with companies like Sonique, WinAmp, MusicMatch and Sonic Foundry supporting Microsoft technology.

"By licensing its audio, security and digital rights management technologyto RealNetworks, Microsoft recognizes the music industries need to deliverits music in a single download format, reaching the broadest number of musicfans without regard to the software player they use," said Paul Vidich,Executive Vice President, Warner Music Group.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for RealNetworks is that Windows Media's secure music format is used on many other software systems and is accepted by some major labels. Also, the Windows Media audio format has smaller file sizes than MP3 when using the same sound quality. RealNetworks has been pushing MP3 for its music content on the RealJukebox player.

Although RealNetworks was announced as a new licensee, the company didn't make an announcement itself, so it's unclear what its plans are. Also unknown is the status of MP3. Will it fall by the wayside as more and more companies look to secure distribution of digital music?

The deal announced today involved no money. The Windows Media SDK is available for free to Windows developers at Microsoft's web site.

Microsoft also announced that measurement firm Media Metrix reported in its latestSoftUsage Report that Windows Media Player was used more than any othermultimedia player among U.S. households with PCs in December 1999.

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