The media delivery platform, called the Helix Platform, is based on the company's client and server software that allows content to be delivered over the Internet or a network from a server to desktop PCs and other computing devices.
Two years in the making, the platform is the first to support the range of commonly used technologies and applications, such as MPEG-4 and Windows Media, analysts said.
The promise of the Helix Universal Server software is that it removes the need to set up multiple servers to deliver various media formats to end users, allowing content providers to consolidate their Internet media servers onto a single platform, said Rob Glaser, RealNetworks' president and chief executive officer.
Streaming services allow users to listen to audio or watch video over a data network without having to wait for an entire file to download, and can be used for broadcast or on-demand delivery.
Organisations that stream audio and video over the Internet often have to install multiple servers to offer their customers a choice of formats. The most popular formats are Apple Computer's QuickTime, Microsoft's Windows Media and RealNetworks' RealAudio and RealVideo. Helix Universal Server supports more than 55 media types, including those popular formats.
The support for Windows Media formats could spark a legal fight between RealNetworks and Microsoft as RealNetworks did not take out a license from Microsoft for its Windows Media format, but recreated the technology by investigating Windows Media streams. Microsoft and RealNetworks have been battling for market share in the streaming media market.
Glaser explained that his company has not actually reproduced the Windows Media technology for encoding and decoding files, rather it recreated the method for transmitting Windows Media files from a server to a client. All the work it did was legal and accomplished through negotiations with partner technology companies, Glaser said.
RealNetworks has also announced the Helix Community, a shared source initiative intended to allow customers to adapt the software to meet their needs.
Online at www.helixcommunity.org, the site will be a source for companies, institutions and individual developers to access the Helix Platform source code, which includes the Helix server, encoder and client products.
The source code access will enable them to build their own versions of the software from scratch, as well as enhance the overall platform, said Brad Hefta-Gaub, vice-president of product development at Real Networks.
"We expect to see [the source code] used mostly for fine-tuning systems," Hefta-Gaub added.
The Helix Community will offer two licences under which developers will be able to view and modify the source code - the RealNetworks Community Source License (RCSL) and the RealNetworks Public Source License (RPSL).
Products developed under the RCSL have to be compatible with Helix, while software developed under the RPSL has to be open source, RealNetworks said.
The company has made drafts of those licences available on the Helix community Web site for outside review. Once it gathers industry comments, RealNetworks said it plans to submit the RPSL to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) for certification as an open source licence.
RealNetworks plans to make the source code of its Helix client available to the Helix Community within 90 days, followed by the server and encoder source code by the end of the year, the company said.
RealNetworks' shared source initiative is supported by 29 companies, including CollabNet, Red Hat, Sun, Oracle, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Hitachi.
The open platform for media distribution is a boon to device makers that are working to bring audio and video to their products.
For instance, there are few applications available for Palm OS-powered handheld devices that allow users to watch or listen to streaming audio and video, said PalmSource chief executive officer, David Nagel.
"We certainly expect acceleration of new applications now that a toolkit is available to bring streaming media to Palm devices," Nagel said.