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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Why Is QuickTime Failing To Conquer?
May 15th, 2001

QuickTime is one of the best technologies that Apple ever produced. It is versatile, very powerful and its potential is considerable. From the various file types it can handle to how its multimedia capabilities influence your Mac, QuickTime seems to do just anything you could want it to do. Yet it does not dominate the marketplace.

A characteristic example: the Web. Outside the movie industry - which is the territory that Apple covers best - you have a hard time finding QuickTime files, whether you look for streaming or downloads. In fact, one has the impression that QuickTime multimedia on the Web is as present as the Macintosh in offices and homes. There are scores of sites offering QuickTime for audio and video, but they add up to only a small fraction of a market dominated by Windows Media and Real.

Why is this happening? QuickTime is so superior to other multimedia platforms that it would only be logical for it to prevail over all competitors. However, what is logical to many of us does not necessarily correspond to reality for others. The computer industry and the people who shape it have their quirks, and one of them is their ability to kill great tools by throwing money at important players to prevent them from adopting the best available technology.

To get specific, why isn't QuickTime's presence dominating multimedia on the Internet? According to Brad Smith, my colleague who writes iQT at The Mac Observer: "Both Real and Windows Media were able to creep up on Apple, and, in Real's case, implement streaming before Apple did. In other words, Real Networks beat Apple to the punch - a punch that almost was a knockout blow. Streaming was the technology everyone was waiting for, and Real provided it. Suddenly, almost overnight, RealPlayer became more popular. While the player provided by Real was no match for what QuickTime could do, Real now had the resources to expand and 'throw money' at potential clients. Microsoft, in their 'all mine' attitude wished to mirror the success of Real with their Windows Media Player software and its file format. In the same way that so many individuals are forced to use Internet Explorer on Windows, Microsoft is forcing WMP onto the computers of the masses."

Indeed. There is nothing new in Microsoft's business practices. Redmond is the ultimate master in pushing manufacturers to accept preinstalled MS products. This is why Windows Media Player is as present as it is on PCs. Ordinary consumers are not multimedia experts. If their machines come with Windows Media Player and Real and most sites offer files in the two formats, are they going to bother with QuickTime? It is almost the same thing for streaming. If Real came first with the technology, becoming widely adopted as a result, will content providers swim against the wave and move to QuickTime?

My initial impression, with which my colleague Brad seems to agree, is that preinstallation of QuickTime on Windows PCs is necessary. When someone beats you at something because of a very smart move, you can easily say "two can play that game." In this case, Apple can say "three can play that game" and turn into an aggressive competitor by approaching PC manufacturers and striking their own deals to get QuickTime bundled onto PCs.

This seems like an incredibly valuable solution, but there are many obstacles in the way.

First of all, Real and MS are strong competitors. They will not let Apple gets its way without fighting. With their installed bases, MS and Real are not about to give their supremacy away. Also, remember that the two of them, combined together, have much more money than Apple if they wish to turn the multimedia competition into a financial war. If Apple decides to throw money at manufacturers to preinstall QuickTime on new PCs, you can bet that MS and Real have the resources to battle.

Another important thing to remember is that since MS develops key Mac products, it would be quite simple for Redmond to put up a couple of obstacles to QT. If Apple gets aggressive with QuickTime, MS could easily remind Apple that Office for Mac should not be taken for granted anymore. They've done it before, according to court testimony, and they will no doubt do it again.

The big issue with QuickTime's presence is that product's superiority (in terms of quality) is never a guarantee of success. In any case, such a technological advantage can never be permanent. It is entirely possible for competition, just as Real did with streaming, to beat Apple at something and gain new ground.

In the end, QuickTime is standard on the Macintosh and will prevail in any "Apple friendly" industry. In my opinion, Apple should at least try to gain new ground by inking deals with PC manufacturers. This is not a perfectly secured road to success, but it could produce interesting results.

Another potential solution is to reproduce the success that Apple has with content creators. Movie studios offer QuickTime, and quite a few important broadcasters of television have QuickTime TV streams available. Such successes cannot guarantee further developments of their kind, but they can certainly signal to Apple that there are tons of potential with all kinds of entertainment venues.

I believe that QuickTime's technological potential is almost endless, but unless Apple can give it features that the competition could not equal for a long time, QT's success may be limited to the success of its native platform. This would be unexciting, but I have the impression that it is reality.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy sites that require QuickTime (such as Madonna Music) and dream of QuickTime becoming dominant enough to put most computer users in front of the same "get QuickTime" message.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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