WinInfo Daily UPDATE, August 24, 2004

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In the News

- Freedom Rings: RealNetworks Sells 1 Million Songs in a Week
- Microsoft Offers Second Way to Block Windows XP SP2 Downloads as Schools, Businesses Brace for Impact

==== In the News ====

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Freedom Rings: RealNetworks Sells 1 Million Songs in a Week

Just a week after launching RealPlayer 10.5 with Harmony Technology and unleashing a 49-cent song download promotion on its RealPlayer Music Store, RealNetworks announced that the service has sold 1 million songs. Although that figure falls short of Apple Computer's best week--3.3 million songs sold through the Apple iTunes Music Store during 1 week in May 2004--it clearly establishes RealNetworks as the number-two digital music download service. Perhaps more important to the company, however, is the fact that RealNetworks' RHAPSODY subscription service continues to be the volume leader with more than 550,000 paying subscribers.
"RealNetworks is the leader in subscription services and we now believe we are clearly number two in a la carte download sales," Richard Wolpert, RealNetworks' chief strategy officer, said. "Paired with our free music offerings, RealNetworks is the clear leader in digital music services today. We knew that the 49 cent promotion and a campaign showcasing the need for compatibility in the digital music industry would send a powerful message and we are very pleased with the results."
The RHAPSODY service offers a library of more than 625,000 songs for download and more than 725,000 songs for streaming. But RealNetworks' real (ahem) innovation is the Harmony Technology, which lets customers play songs they purchased from the RealPlayer Music Store on more than 100 portable audio devices and PDAs. The songs are now compatible with devices such as Apple's iPod, which is based on the Protected Advanced Audio Codec (Protected AAC) format and Dell's Digital Jukebox (DJ), which is based on Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM). RealNetworks couples Harmony Technology with its superior 192Kbps DRM-encoded AAC audio format, a high-quality source format that lets RealNetworks transcode (i.e., convert) music from its format to rival formats without a perceptible loss of quality. Music purchased from the iTunes Music Store is available only in a low-quality 128Kbps Protected AAC format that doesn't transcode well to other formats.
RealNetworks is also promoting a message about freedom of choice. Previously, iPod owners were forced to use only Apple's music-download service, a fact that could have come back to haunt customers, according to a recent Insight Express survey. According to the survey results, only 8 percent of iPod owners were aware that files from other digital music stores weren't compatible with their devices. When RealNetworks entered the fray, however, iPod owners had a choice of services; RealNetworks offers higher-quality songs and, for the moment, much lower prices. Users of WMA-based players such as the Dell DJ, however, already have a wide range of music store choices, including BuyMusic, Musicmatch, and Napster; other services, such as MSN Music, will launch soon.
The RealPlayer Music Store's "Freedom of Choice" promotion, which offers individual songs for just 49 cents and most albums for $4.99, is temporary, according to RealNetworks. Although the company has been vague about the promotion's timing, a report in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning said that the promotion will continue through early September.

Microsoft Offers Second Way to Block Windows XP SP2 Downloads as Schools, Businesses Brace for Impact

Yesterday, Microsoft provided a second method for blocking Automatic Updates and Windows Update automatic downloads of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). The method, which uses a VBScript script, is designed for IT administrators who want to temporarily block the SP2 download while they prepare their environments for the massive upgrade. Microsoft earlier provided a separate mechanism for delaying the SP2 download.
"This script runs against multiple computers to remotely block or unblock the delivery of Windows XP SP2 from Windows Update Web site or via Automatic Updates," a note on the Microsoft Web site says. "The code uses the StdRegProv class of the Windows Management Instrumentation Registry provider. The ability to block delivery of Windows XP SP2 will be available for a limited time only." The script uses a comma-delimited text file that contains the names of machines the IT administrator wants to block. The script is available for download at the URL below.
The fact that Microsoft is so quickly providing ways to prevent SP2 installations might seem odd, but the update's massive download size could hobble businesses when their client machines try to download and install SP2. The situation is particularly problematic for US universities, which were just starting their fall semesters when Microsoft unleashed SP2. "The timing is extremely unfortunate," Anne Agee, deputy chief information officer at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told "The Washington Post." "It wouldn't be so bad if we had gotten this more than a month ago, because at least then we would have had plenty of time to test it and make a decision about how we want to correct for this." George Mason University, like many other universities, has decided to temporarily block the SP2 download.
For users who are still waiting for SP2, this week marks another milestone in the upgrade's slow rollout. Tomorrow, Microsoft will release the download to XP Professional Edition users who have enabled Automatic Updates.

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