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Monday, April 19, 2004  

Tech talk: Apple rejects Real

What if you invited a rival to become a friend and he said 'no'? Wired reports that is just what happened when RealNetworks, which has been expressing an interest in an alliance with Apple for weeks, tried to get a date. It says Apple rebuffed Real. Both of the parties have been around the block a few times. You would think they have mellowed enough to at least meet for discussion. But, that wasn't to be. One self-made man, and chief executive, said he wasn't interested in the other.

"Seattle-based RealNetworks said Thursday that Apple chairman Steve Jobs had declined an offer by RealNetworks' chief executive Rob Glaser to meet and discuss forming an online music alliance involving Apple's best-selling iPod portable players.

"He's in the neighborhood, but whatever meeting Rob wanted with Steve isn't happening," RealNetworks spokesman Greg Chiemingo said Thursday. "Steve just doesn't want to open the iPod, and we don't understand that.""

The New York Times has the details.

The offer to create a "tactical alliance" was made on April 9 by Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks, the Seattle-based Internet music and video service, in an e-mail message to Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chairman.

But if an alliance with Apple could not be struck, Mr. Glaser strongly hinted in the e-mail message that he might be forced to form a partnership with Microsoft to pursue "very interesting opportunities" because support for Microsoft's media-playing software seems to be growing.

Steve and Rob appear not to be destined for an excellent adventure -- or even lunch. So, who is zooming who? The interest in such an alliance for Real is clear. If it enters into an agreement with Apple, its customers will be able to transfer Real's heretofore proprietary content to the iPod, the most popular of digital audio players. However, Jobs apparently does not see a balancing interest in such an alliance for Apple.

In an interview earlier this week with The Wall Street Journal, Jobs said Apple has little incentive to open its popular digital music player to others.

"The iPod already works with the No. 1 music service in the world, and the iTunes Music Store works with the No. 1 digital-music player in the world," he said. "The No. 2s are so far behind already. Why would we want to work with No. 2?"

Observers do see a reason the two companies might merge their efforts against 800-pound gorilla Microsoft. Apple and Real both use Advanced Audio Coding format (ACC), a rival to Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format. If the two joined forces that could have a greater impact on attracting users to ACC. Currently, Apple prevents Real's ACC content from playing on the iPod. If the barrier was dropped, users would have the option of buying and playing content from both music stores.

Though Jobs is being coy about not needing to snuggle up with Real currently, I'm not sure the rebuff will be the end of the matter. If WMA sites become more competitive with the iTunes Music Store, Apple will have good reason to reconsider. Also, having been a rather coy gal who kept the guys calling in my youth, I don't believe Jobs is immovable. Perhaps Steve just wants Rob to beg.

8:15 PM