RealTime IT News

Rhapsody.com Extends Real's Web Reach

FOSTER CITY, CALIF. -- Moving closer to its goal of being the premier "jukebox in the sky," RealNetworks rolled out a public test launch of a Web-based version of its digital music service.

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser described Rhapsody.com, which went live on Monday, in a keynote address here at the Digital Living Room conference.

There's an interesting twist to the announcement. Despite being rebuffed earlier this year by Apple in getting cooperation to make its digital music service available to iPod users, Glaser said the new service will be available to Mac users running the Safari browser that is shipped standard with all Macs. The service is also available to Linux users and will run under both Internet Explorer and Firefox. He briefly demonstrated the single-button access and sign-on to get music at Rhapsody.com on all three browsers.

"We think Apple Computer and Steve [Jobs] personally are making a mistake by making their stuff so proprietary," said Glaser. "In going to the Mac, we saw no reason to penalize Apple Computer customers for Steve's pig-headedness. We think this is a positive thing, and we hope to work with Apple again, as we have in the past."

Rhapsody.com is the first Web service to allow consumers using Explorer, Firefox, or Safari to access and listen to up to 25 licensed music tracks a month for free. To gain unlimited access to Rhapsody's library of over 1.4 million songs, RealNetworks offers Rhapsody Unlimited for $9.99 per month.

RealNetworks is offering tools for Web site operators to integrate Rhapsody music by offering links it calls "Rhaplinks" to individual music tracks, full albums and radio stations. Rhaplinks can be embedded in Web sites to offer immediately playback via Rhapsody.com. Web site operators can integrate XML feeds, including RSS, of Rhapsody editorial information about music, such as new releases.

Microsoft, which recently settled a long-running suit filed by RealNetworks to the tune of $761 million, is among the early supporters of the new services, which are slated to be available in Windows Media Player 10 in the next few weeks. Microsoft also plans to integrate Rhapsody.com into its MSN search, MSN messenger and MSN Music Services. Comcast and RollingStone.com also are supporting Rhapsody.com

Glaser said his company -- and digital music providers in general -- still faces the daunting problem of piracy, which remains the predominant way music is downloaded. "It's at least four times more prevalent than any legitimate means of music downloads," he said.

He said RealNetworks would never offer a way for consumers to gain access to illegal content, but by offering a lot of free music and easier ways to access music in general, he thinks it's possible to bring down the level of piracy. "You need a set of services that don't require a lot of effort up front and that offer access legally … with an onramp that's free."

Although his company still has to pay for licensed songs it distributes for free, Glaser said advertising revenue offsets some of the expense, and it's worth the investment to gain new customers. He noted Google's success using a ubiquity strategy before it tried to monetize its services. "We're prepared to make investments in technology that make financial sense and increases stickiness," said Glaser, referring to features that keep consumers at a Web site or using a Web-based service.

In his demo of Rhapsody.com on Linux, the free operating system, Glaser joked that he was about to perform the first paid song download on linux. Looking ahead he noted that the popularity of Linux in embedded devices is an opportunity for RealNetworks to get its software into a lot more consumer products.