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PC World

Microsoft helps jumpstart broadband Web access

October 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT)

by Alexandra Krasne Fast Internet

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (IDG) -- Microsoft literally went Hollywood Wednesday at the Digital Hollywood conference here, announcing the Windows Media Broadband Jumpstart initiative -- a push to promote broadband on the Web.

No stranger to lofty goals, Microsoft expects Jumpstart will double the amount of broadband connections in the coming year, by offering standard technology for the vendors of various broadband components. The initiative promotes technology that will enable CD-quality audio and near-broadcast-quality video. Microsoft is also promoting better content, all using less bandwidth in comparison with other formats. The announcement came from Anthony Bay, general manager for Microsoft's Streaming Media division.

So far, 35 companies have joined Microsoft's initiative to promote widespread broadband usage. Among them are content-delivery networks, caching systems, cable access, content developers and distributors, and Internet advertising services.
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Consumers are moving slower than industry would, says Kevin Unangst, lead product manager for streaming media at Microsoft. That's why Microsoft is jumping on the broadband bandwagon. But many obstacles remain in the path.

Microsoft's campaign addresses many of those hindrances: lack of content, high cost of service, and the expense of offering broadband on Web sites.

"Streaming media is the killer app of the Web," Unangst says. But, "for the consumer, there's not enough interesting content, and it's relatively poor quality."

Microsoft's plan includes pushing its own Windows Media Technologies player, software used to "play" audio and video streamed from sites. The downloaded files in Windows Media Audio format will be half the size of an MP3 file and will be better quality, according to Unangst. Plus, the player is free, it's built into Windows NT 4, and it's a core feature of Windows 2000 and Windows 98.

The format is also a competitor to RealNetworks, a leader in streaming audio and video technology founded by Microsoft alumnus Rob Glaser. The RealNetworks RealPlayer is also available in a free version, and it supports MP3.

Streaming options

But the first step toward getting the bandwidth ball rolling is to provide access and content to broadband-hungry consumers.

One site adopting Microsoft's Windows Media Technologies to provide streaming video and audio is WWW.COM. The site offers radio, entertainment, live events, weather, sports, and other information. Eventually it will use Windows Media Technologies to stream pay-per-view live concerts in near-broadcast quality.

"The Jumpstart initiative will make distribution more efficient and removes a couple of barriers," says Andy Hong, vice president of WWW.COM's creative capital group.

The Jumpstart initiative also gives WWW.COM the tools to encode music in true CD sound, which it plans to offer in a few months. Developing its own broadband-enabling technology was too large a task for the company, Hong says.

"An obstacle to offering is the cost of conversion from old media to digital or audio CD to digital," Hong says. "But we've developed proprietary technology that makes this process efficient, and Microsoft is plugging in other holes with support."

Currently, broadband is not widely accepted, but analysts see Microsoft's move to the Web as a logical direction.

"Broadband is important to Microsoft because there are not too many things you can do in Word," says Rob Enderele, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "Microsoft is positioning itself so it can direct Internet service providers. It's hedging its bets and getting ready for future, which is broadband."

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