After Hours

Members speak at final meeting of the New Media Roundtable

At the final meeting of the New Media Roundtable, TechRepublic members share their insights on QuickTime and Macromedia Flash as streaming technology options.


I now call to order the final meeting of the New Media Roundtable. TechRepublic created the New Media Roundtable to provide both a forum where members could express their digital media information needs and a tool for obtaining that information. However, a confluence of reasons makes continuing the column impossible at this time. Because the New Media Roundtable was ultimately a vehicle for sharing information, it’s only fitting that our last edition features opinions and insights from TechRepublic members on topics recently discussed at the Roundtable.

More member support for QuickTime
As I mentioned in last week’s column on QuickTime, several members expressed strong feelings about the attention, or perceived lack of it, that I paid to Apple’s digital media platform when discussing streaming options. I tried to clarify in that column that the biggest problem I saw with QuickTime was its weak market penetration on the media player front, compared to Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and RealNetworks’ RealPlayer. I referred to a report that Jupiter Media Metrix released in April, indicating that 34.6 percent of at-work users accessed content with RealPlayer in January, while 30.4 percent used Windows Media Player, and only 6.5 percent used QuickTime.

TechRepublic member Fishy took Media Metrix and me to task for paying attention to these numbers. In an e-mail, he said that because Media Metrix tracks the streams that are delivered to the specific media player applications but not content that is streamed to custom players embedded in Web pages, the data has no value.

“This hurts all three formats, and all three companies have raised this issue with Media Metrix,” Fishy said.

Readers raised similar concerns when MacCentral Online reported similar data from Media Metrix last January.

Fishy went on to say that QuickTime gets doubly shortchanged in the Media Metrix numbers because the measurement company does not include viewings by QuickTime player installations of “progressive download streaming,” which Apple calls Fast Start video. The QuickTime Player downloads a Fast Start video in its entirety, simulating streaming video by beginning playback before the entire file is downloaded.

(Media Metrix did not return calls and e-mails regarding their reporting methods in time to make this column’s publication deadline.)

Fishy also said that after evaluating all the streaming platforms in terms of potential market, stability, ease of use, etc., he chose QuickTime hands down. He credited the market position of Microsoft and RealNetworks more to marketing tactics than technological superiority.

“Both companies provide content providers with encoding and streaming credits through companies like Akamai and Sonic Foundry,” he said. “Essentially, RealNetworks and Microsoft cover all the costs for content providers for a year or so. It's a loss leader for them…. Microsoft and RealNetworks benefit because the content companies encode their entire library in a particular format, and it is too expensive to switch to another, so the content company is forced to continue in the Real or Windows Media Player format.”

Another member, bcampbell, posted a comment to my column in which I discussed MPEG as an alternative for enterprise video, chiding me for not mentioning that QuickTime actually was the file format specified by the MPEG standards. While I did fail to mention the connection between QuickTime and MPEG-4, this member didn’t have the story completely straight either. What was then the current version of QuickTime served as the basis for the MPEG file format when work began on it back in 1998, but the file formats have gone their divergent ways since then.

Don’t forget Flash
In the midst of our in-depth discussion of streaming video formats, another member, Mark Losey, spoke up to say he thought we were ignoring a great alternative to streaming video:Macromedia Flash. Losey, an interactive designer and developer, does extensive Flash work through his company, Global Image Design (http://www.globalimagedesign.com/portfoliomain.swf).

“I am concerned that TechRepublic is more caught up in streaming media than the goal of the applications discussed or finding the best technology (to meet those goals),” Losey said in an e-mail. “Unless there is another definition of streaming that I don't know about, Flash must be included in this category and is the best answer for most of the applications that are discussed in these articles.”

Losey went on to suggest that most people’s fascination with streaming video is a result of growing up with television as their only entertainment option, and said that Flash technology was better suited for the delivery of most corporate information over the Web and that it was more mature as an Internet technology. While Flash presentations require custom graphics and coding work, Losey said that the ultimate cost and network overhead to deploy them are minimal, compared to streaming video. While acknowledging that Flash is not a viable replacement for live Webcasts, he said the technology could replace streaming video in most other applications.

“Flash will stream a multimedia presentation on a 33.6KB modem at a quality higher than the cable that comes into my house, but you just can't use full motion video (on the Web) reasonably,” he said. “If we take a look at the goal of most of the examples that are mentioned on TechRepublic, you see that nearly all of these projects share a goal of delivering a message or providing training. Neither of these requires video…. The only other option in streaming technology is Macromedia's Flash, and it is the best choice for nearly all of these applications.”

This meeting is closed
My thanks go out to all those who regularly attended meetings of the New Media Roundtable—especially you who took the time to share your knowledge, opinions, and questions with e-mails or posted comments. Streaming media and other forms of digital content are changing the way that each of us enjoys entertainment and expands our knowledge, and dealing with media technologies is now part of every IT professional’s job. I hope that the New Media Roundtable provided at least one nugget of information that made a positive difference in your IT organization.

Senior Contributing Editor Jeff Yocom was a TechRepublic cofounder and launched the New Media Roundtable to help IT executives and managers leverage new media in all its forms.


 

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