April 5, 2000 7:30 PM PDT

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One would think Apple is turning into a software maker, judging by a newly unveiled open-source project.

Today at Internet World in Los Angeles, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company released version 1.0 of its Darwin server project to software developers. The year-old collaborative effort between Apple and independent programmers is Apple's attempt to capitalize on the runaway success of the Linux operating system while expanding its influence in multimedia streaming software.

Darwin is meant to popularize portions of the upcoming Macintosh operating system, called Mac OS X. Under the open-source model, anyone can gain access to the original programming instructions and tweak the software to suit particular purposes. Apple is saying such development will make its product more attractive to customers.

One immediate outcome: For the first time, Apple itself is making available software that will let Windows-based servers stream multimedia content using QuickTime. Previously, QuickTime software was largely relegated to use as software for playing back and editing multimedia content and desktop PCs, though companies such as Entera have been offering their own Windows NT streaming servers with QuickTime for several months.

Also today, Apple added ten content partners, including Sony Music Entertainment, as it continues its bid to chip away at RealNetworks' share of the multimedia streaming market. The company's QuickTime TV "network," which now has 40 different content partners, will stream full-length videos to consumers.

By opening up portions of the QuickTime software to outside developers last year, Apple had hoped to enlist their help in promoting strategic Apple technologies. With developers having aided efforts to get the software working on rival Microsoft's Windows NT server operating system, the strategy now seems to be paying off.

As recently as one year ago, Apple had been losing momentum in the market for multimedia software because QuickTime didn't offer the same "streaming" capabilities found in RealNetworks or Microsoft software until the official release of QuickTime 4.0. Streaming refers to the ability to play multimedia content virtually in real time, as opposed to downloading content in its entirety before it can be played back.

"Since having offered QuickTime through open source over a year ago, there are now five different versions of QuickTime streaming server available," said Frank Casanova, director of QuickTime marketing at Apple.

Having the software run on a variety of different servers has made it easier for content partners such as CNN.com and Sony as well as distribution partners like Akamai and Digital Island offer content in the QuickTime format. In addition to Windows NT, the software runs on Sun Microsystem's Solaris operating system, Linux and FreeBSD as well as Mac OS X server.

Recent measurements from Nielsen/NetRatings show that while RealNetworks' RealPlayer topped the hotly contested field of audio-video Internet software for the month of November, Apple has been gaining some ground. RealPlayer was chosen by 12.1 percent of users, while Apple's QuickTime claimed 7.4 percent and Microsoft's Windows Media Player had 3.2 percent. Apple's results were up from May's ratings by about one percentage point.

Both Apple and Microsoft have been hammering away at RealNetworks in the multimedia market by giving away software for streaming content. Just last month, Seattle-based Real licensed Microsoft's Windows Media audio format for use in its desktop PC software, a move that analysts labeled a tacit acknowledgment that Microsoft's presence in the market can no longer be ignored.

Apple still has a long way to go before unseating Real as the king of the hill in streaming media, but it continues to offer companies the ability to stream content for free in hopes of gaining converts. A significant portion of RealNetworks' revenue comes from licensing server software. Basically, the greater the number of people who view content on a site, the more the service provider pays for the license.

Multimedia software isn't the only place that Apple is hoping that a more open attitude will help out. The company was once notorious for its "not invented here" syndrome, in which anything Apple didn't develop was viewed as inferior.

Developers have helped fix a number of bugs and made several enhancements to the underlying "plumbing" of the upcoming Mac OS X operating system, said Ken Bereskin, director of OS technology and marketing for Apple. In doing so, Apple has reached a "jumping-off point where a lot of developers of hardware products and peripherals that need to be integrated with OS X" can start honing their products for release, he said.

"This is a great milestone of how well the development of OS X is going along," Bereskin offered. Mac OS X is due out this summer.

Interestingly, to get more developers interested in contributing to the project, Darwin can now also run on Intel-based PCs. While Darwin is simply the collection of plumbing of the new operating software (parts of which already ran on Intel PCs), the door is open for Apple in the future to one day completely move the operating system to the so-called X86 architecture.

Bereskin said there are no plans for Apple to do that. What the company gains by having Darwin available on Intel PCs is access to a greater number of programmers who are willing to tinker with the software.

 

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