RealTime IT News

Can Helix Deliver the Real Stuff?

That loud, revving sound you hear is most likely RealNetworks pushing the envelope in its high-stakes race with Microsoft for control of the digital media sector.

After a surprising shift to allow open-source parts of its technology and digital content to be streamed in a variety of formats, the Seattle-based RealNetworks will get down to business Tuesday with the first official release of the Helix DNA Client, which officials say represents "a significant portion of the technology that goes into the RealOne Player and other RealNetworks products."

"This client is the heart of the RealOne player. It's a media engine that allows developers to build their own media player. The possibilities for developers are endless. The code we are putting out there can form the basis of players for a wide range of environments and platforms," said Kevin Foreman, general manager of Real's big open-source push.

Tuesday's announcement -- which will include a Webcast presentation from CEO Rob Glaser -- is the first of a three-phase Helix plan that includes the release of the Helix DNA Client, the Helix DNA Server and the Helix DNA Encoder.

While the client is the universal playback engine supporting the decode and playback of any data type on any device, Foreman told internetnews.com the next release of code (sometime in December) will include the DNA server, which is the core engine for digital media delivery that would enable developers to build a server for any media format, including those of rivals Microsoft and Apple .

Foreman said source code from DNA encoder, which is the encoding engine, and APIs that would lets users convert video and audio into digital media in a streamlined fashion, would also be put before the open-source community.

Although it is much too early to speculate on the types of digital media delivery mechanisms that will be built with Real's source code, Foreman joined analysts in hinting at the creation of tools for video conferencing, telecommunications and patient care applications. "I cannot even fathom. We expect a bunch of these things to take off. Really, it's impossible to predict what kind of ideas will take off," Foreman said.

Independent developers quizzed by internetnews.com were anxiously awaiting details of the source code launch, noting that it's still not clear exactly what the company would actually make available. At the very least, they expect a set of digital media APIs to lead to the creation of media player plug-ins and other custom applications. It is a strategy already embraced by AOL-backed WinAmp, which has developed a rabid following among amateur developers.

Yankee Group analyst Paul Ritter applauded Real's shift in strategy but warned that developer interest must be high to make it a can't-miss success. "I would say that Real's long term success is not inextricably tied to an explosive growth in applications and API's by the developer community, but it will definitely be an enormous help to Real if that happens," Ritter said.

"Communicating success stories and innovative new applications will have to be an on-going strategy to ensure things don't start off with a bang and end with a whimper," he warned.

Real's Foreman shrugged off the skeptics, noting that the initial feedback from developers when the July announcement was made "blew us out of the water."

"I'm not going to get into numbers but I can tell you we have our own internal expectations. And I expect those to be blown away," he said.

He said developers can look forward to code from the Helix DNA that includes numerous interfaces for functionalities like Web-based administration, bandwidth control, access control lists, a high-performance bit pump, RTP and RTSP, cache configuration, live broadcasting and network optimized file system.

Based on the Helix DNA, Real's dream is for developers to create new applications ranging back-end applications for digital media management and encoding to applications to enhance digital media playback on any IP-enabled mobile or consumer device.

Tuesday's release of the source code also comes with a free software development kit that lets users write applications direct to the Helix DNA client. If developers want support for the RealAudio and RealVideo codecs, licenses for these are available via separate research and development and/or commercial use licenses from RealNetworks, Foreman explained.

For the an open-source guru's opinion on Helix, please turn to Page 2