* REALNETWORKS TO INTRODUCE MEDIA SERVER CHALLENGER
   This afternoon, streaming media giant RealNetworks will announce a new version of its media server software, dubbed the Helix Universal Server, that's compatible with Microsoft Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV) formats. But according to a report in "The New York Times," the server software will essentially duplicate the functionality of the Microsoft Windows Media Services (WMS) software that ships in current and future Windows Server products. And that, of course, might cause a bit of concern in Redmond.

"A rational way for \[Microsoft\] to respond would be to say, 'This is great,'" said RealNetworks' CEO Rob Glaser. "That would be \[the\] Microsoft of the future."

In developing the software, RealNetworks studied the ways WMS sends and receives data, then duplicated that functionality. Glaser says the company did this in a so-called "clean room," meaning that the RealNetworks engineers had no technical understanding of the system underlying the functionality that they were copying. Glaser, a former Microsoft executive, says that the software giant used a similar strategy to reverse-engineer technologies such as NetWare, PostScript, and JavaScript.

RealNetworks, of course, makes the most popular streaming audio and video formats, and its expensive server software is required to deliver such content. Still unclear is what the company hopes to gain by releasing and charging for software that comes free with every copy of Windows Server. But Glaser says his company can deliver performance as much as four times faster than Microsoft's free server.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the company will reportedly make the source code to Helix Universal Server available to partners and competitors, so that they can more easily build add-ons. RealNetworks will officially unveil Helix Universal Server during a press event this afternoon, the company says.