RealNetworks has filed a $1 billion antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that Microsoft stifled RealNetworks’ attempts to develop a market for its RealPlayer software and RealOne service.

I wish I could be sympathetic. Digital media functions don’t necessarily have to be handled by the operating system. It seems intuitive that Windows Media Player is a separate product from Windows, not an integral part of the system. Perhaps Microsoft should have leveled the playing field and done more to give competitors a chance. On the other hand, the market for Windows digital media software and services looks pretty darned competitive to me.

One important issue probably won’t be discussed in the newspapers, though. RealNetworks’ software is horrible. It is intrusive, ad-ridden, and full of spyware. Its web site is deliberately misleading, attempting to extract a Visa number for a useless upgrade and conceal the free player. Its software is badly written and buggy. Its installation routine relies on dirty tricks to install unwanted services and generate unwanted spam. At one point a list of advertising and spam options appears, with all the visible boxes unchecked – concealing that the list continues further down, with all boxes checked that are out of sight. At one time they installed a stealth service, RealDownload, that surreptitiously reported your personal download history back to RealNetworks. The RealOne subscription service is uninteresting at best and a blizzard of annoying advertisements at worst. RealNetworks’ technology for streaming audio and video is inferior to its competitors.

And the worst, the unforgivable sin – not just another tray icon by the clock, but a blinking tray icon. With a deliberately confusing sequence of steps necessary to disable the icon.

From Slashdot: “There are a few very simple rules for doing business that I wish companies would learn.

“1. Don’t piss off your customers

“2. Your product, perceived or otherwise, has to be better then your competitors.

“Real follows neither of these rules, and this lawsuit appears to be nothing more then a last ditch effort to gain capital. It is a reality that if a company has no other business model then to offer an inferior product and expect customers to either pay for it or suffer egregious violations of their privacy, when they are a few mouse clicks away from something better that is free, that company will fail. It’s just common sense.”

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