Real Honesty

I was downloading an evaluation product from Real Networks this afternoon, and noticed, with some delight, the following section on the form I was required to fill out:

This may be the first honest evaluation form I’ve come across.

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Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on September 23, 2003 - 07:51

Still, Real Networks (formerly Progressive Networks) has earned a bad reputation for spying, obscured opt-out marketing ploys and shameful over-leveraging of its early dominance in streamed media. Its website wrote the book on claiming to offer free player versions then making sure my mom (hell, my sisters) could never find the download links. RealMedia servers routinely block requests that aren’t given unrestricted two-way access. Real Networks can be fairly called assholes.

Windows users will appreciate Real Alternative, which actually just provides proper codecs and config to a frozen version of Windows Media Player 6.4 (the last version anybody should use) for playing RealMedia content without fuss. Get it, use it. Netscape/Mozilla/Firebird plugins are provided if you don’t already have them.

Another problem with streamed media is that it’s hard to capture: you can view it, but saving it takes very special steps because the link you click is not to the media file itself. The source is generally hidden behind multiple redirects that players silently navigate but most users cannot.

To defeat that bit of subterfuge, Windows users can Google for and download an app called URLSnooper, a packet sniffer tailored for digging out the source URL of streaming media files. Point URLSnooper at your network interface device (usually your NIC/Ethernet card on broadband connections), start the sniffer, then go back to a browser window and click the media link. URLSnooper will conjoin the ensuing packets and highlight likely URLs for copy-pasting into an application that allows you to save the true target file. Depending on how your browser handles MIME-types you can usually paste this URL into the address bar; if not, make a quick and dirty XHTML page with a link to the resource, load it in a browser, right-click and save as.

URLSnooper will also work with a conventional modem but the configuration is more difficult. I’ll dig out my notes for especially interested folks, but you can Google that as well.

See it but not save it? Only see it if I agree to undisclosed outbound HTTP data? I don’t think so.

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