RealNetworks introduced the first public beta of its upcoming RealPlayer 7 on Monday, an upgrade that sports a new user interface and easier access to Web-based multimedia resources. Oddly, the controversial multimedia tracking agent that caused headaches for the company is present in RealPlayer 7, though it is turned off by default.

RealPlayer 7, which is available in free and "Plus" editions, builds on the success of RealNetworks' earlier media players, which have a market of over 85 million users. A new media caching feature decreases startup time, while RAM consumption and CPU utilization are down dramatically.

"RealPlayer 7 gives consumers a place where they can find the best audio and video programming on the Internet," said Maria Cantwell, senior vice president of the Consumer and E-Commerce Division at RealNetworks. "With substantial advancements in performance and usability, new media caching capabilities, and a new message service, RealPlayer 7 delivers a powerful Internet media experience that consumers will want to turn on every day."

While RealPlayer 7 is in beta, you can download both the standard and Plus editions from the RealNetworks Web site