On Monday, RealNetworks " Microsoft's key rival in the media player software business - announced it had signed a distribution agreement with Novell to ship RealPlayer 10 for Linux with Novell's next generation Linux desktop, due in a couple of months, a Novell spokesman confirmed. While RealNetworks claimed the deal would establish its RealPlayer as the default media player for RealVideo, RealAudio, Ogg Vorbis and Theora codecs, Novell said it will continue to provide other media players with its forthcoming desktop including the Totem media player that currently ships with Ximian Desktop 2 and the Kafeeine media player in the KDE-based SUSE Enterprise Desktop.
Linux software giant Red Hat, for its part, will embrace the open-source version of RealNetworks' Linux-based media player, Helix, while also providing customers with a no-cost upgrade to RealPlayer 10 for Linux, according to Red Hat, Raleigh, N.C.
Red Hat said Helix will be shipped with the next quarterly update to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 due this summer. The company's desktop Linux offering was launched on May 17.
The Helix distribution will be more tightly integrated into the next-generation Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0 desktop offering due next year.
RealPlayer for Linux is currently in beta testing and is expected to be completed later this summer, said a RealNetworks spokeswoman.
Both Sun and TurboLinux had previously committed themselves to establish RealPlayer and Helix Player as the de fact standard media players for the Linux desktop, a spokeswoman said.
RealNetworks, Seattle, also announced its intent on Monday to add a General Public License (GPL) option to the Helix Player. Currently, the company offers public source licenses and community source licenses for Helix, but making it available under the GPL is expected to drive new innovation and more development, the company said. Helix Player, developed by the Helix Community, is the foundation of RealPlayer for Linux, which is now in beta testing.
RealPlayer 10 for Linux includes open-source components such as the Helix DNA client, Ogg Vorbis and Theora codecs, as well as commercial components including MP3, Flash and RealAudio and RealVideo media formats.
One Novell solution provider said he doesn't view RealNetworks as a big force in the open-source community, but if it helps drive corporate adoption of Novell's next Linux desktop, he will keep an open mind.
"If RealPlayer is big in the desktop market for the teenie boppers, I assume it could help drive the desktop to Linux," said Terry Calloway, president of Data Technique, Pittsburg, Kan. "My experience with Linux and RealPlayer tells me the two have completely different mission statements."
RealNetworks is Microsoft's chief rival in the commercial media player software business and filed antitrust litigation against Microsoft last December.
RealNetworks would be the primary beneficiary of a European court decision handed down this spring that would require Microsoft to unbundle the Windows Media Player from Windows.
However, Microsoft has appealed the decision and it is not known if or when that order will be enforced. In the meantime, Microsoft's chief competitors in the desktop and server operating systems market, Novell and Red Hat, will increasingly employ RealNetworks' commercial and open-source media player technologies in their Linux desktops.
One Sun partner pushing Sun's Linux desktop said he will evaluate the Red Hat or Novell desktop if one of his clients asks but he doesn't see great demand for media technologies in corporate sites yet.
"I think every little bit helps, but I wouldn't view this as a major breakthrough. I have Java Desktop System built on SuSe, which comes with both RealPlayer and Java Media Player, lighter-weight alternatives built using Java Media Framework 2.1.1," said Curt Stevenson, vice president at Back Bay Technologies, Boston. "Most of the potential market for Linux desktops is corporate, where media players aren't a key factor. We have no business reason to use RealPlayer."