Microsoft plans to incorporate digital video-streaming technology into its Windows platforms and Internet Explorer as part of a multimedia architecture that the software giant will formally unveil on January 21 in San Francisco.
A key component will be ActiveMovie 2.0, an API that developers will use to create media authoring tools for robust audio, video, and 3-D graphics on CD-ROMs and the Internet. ActiveMovie 2.0 will be bundled with Windows NT, Windows 95, and future versions of the operating systems.
Microsoft recently distributed a CD containing alpha code to software and hardware vendors.
"ActiveMovie is a critical component that will provide high-quality, high-performance media streaming," says Jay Torborg, director of graphics and multimedia at Microsoft. "It will be part of Windows NT and Windows 95 as an OS component that will be installed on existing machines and future machines."
Microsoft's goal is to challenge Apple's QuickTime, one analyst says.
"They need to make it ubiquitous," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "For Microsoft to move in and even challenge [Apple], they need to do it like Internet Explorer 3.0 and put it pretty much everywhere."
In addition to support for authoring applications, ActiveMovie 2.0 - due for release in the first half of 1997 - will support video capture and conferencing, Torborg said.
The plans for ActiveMovie show that Microsoft has recognized heightened interest in multimedia technology and wants to set the pace for industry standards.
However, some observers said many questions need to be answered before professional video becomes common in the enterprise.
"It seems like the general market discussion right now is in the direction of putting together video-streaming capability," says Ed Buckingham, an analyst with International Data Corp. "I'm a little leery of whether it takes off because of issues like bandwidth and Internet connection rates."
At Internet World in New York this week, Microsoft introduced another multimedia component. In a second beta version, video technology was added to NetMeeting 2.0's audio and real-time collaboration capabilities.
Torborg says Microsoft is working with at least 40 software and hardware vendors on technology for ActiveMovie 2.0.
One company, Truevision, will support ActiveMovie 2.0 in its Targa line of professional video-editing systems.
Another company, SGS-Thomson Microelectronics, has announced support for playback of MPEG 2 video, as well as an integrated single-chip, digital-video-disc decoder engine.
"ActiveMovie is the key component of a larger architecture supporting professional media marketing," says Laurin Herr, vice president of strategic development for Truevision. "We're saying that professional media can get into that same [Windows] structure where now it's a little bit difficult."