RealOne Player for Mac OS X

After what feels like a long wait, the long-awaited Mac OS X version of the venerable RealPlayer is out. And it's real. Give it a listen.

To my mind, RealPlayer is the "original" internet player. If only for sentimental reasons, I feel that an internet computer just isn't complete without it. Perhaps it was for that exact reason that I found RealOne Player for Mac OS X delightful to use. It brought back memories of those early days of internet radio across narrow bandwidth and how various compression tricks were employed to stuff more data through the pipe than was physically possible.

How far we have come. Internet radio streams at near-CD quality routinely now. Like other recent incarnations of RealPlayer, RealOne handles audio and video automatically. It works like a jet. Considering the underlying complexities, it's amazing that it works at all.

Without further ado, let's download and install it. You need to sign in, so keep a record somewhere of your username, password, and favorite color. The download arrives and unpacks automatically as a single RealOne Player file on your desktop. Go from there.

This is beta software, and it does drop dead at some point, November 13, 2002. That's reasonable, and plenty of time to release the next version. Overall, the license fine print seems reasonable to me. These days, you never know when you're agreeing to reveal your darkest secrets to some software vendor. If you find something fishy in the agreement, let me know.

The first configuration screen asks your permission for RealOne to handle SMIL and Real media types by default. In the absence of a stronger case otherwise, take it. If you do, you will never have to open the actual RealOne Player application directly. If you don't, your older RealPlayer for Mac OS will pick up your Real shortcuts, which somewhat defeats the purpose of this exercise. I found it took a little while for RealOne to finish configurating itself, so I tell myself, be patient. However, five minutes later, the thing is still thinking. So am I, that this thing in fact has crashed. I give it a Cmd-Option-Ins and a force-quit. Now I restart it from the same desktop icon. It starts without a hitch. I pull down the File, Recent Clips menu and play the opening lines. Perfect! Go figure. So the last step is to drag RealOne Player into your Applications folder. You can open it, or merely drag RealOne Player onto the Applications icon in any handy Finder menu and save a step.

Unlike its predecessors, RealOne Player doesn't have a built-in facility to handle Real destinations. As it turns out, it's no loss, since Mac OS X itself might be a better way to manage them. Create a folder in your Documents folder (Home, Documents) called Real Destinations. Now drag its icon to the right-half of your Dock. Whenever you have a new Real destination, merely drag its shortcut onto the icon. Since most Real shortcuts have cryptic names, you may want to house-keep a little. Gathering those shortcuts in the first place can be a trick. You can drag Real links from web sites into the folder directly, or you can click a link the first time, and grab the shortcut it leaves behind on your desktop or in IE's Download Manager window. Single-click Real Destinations to open the actual folder, and rename the shortcuts appropriately. From now on, you can click-and-hold Real Destinations in your Dock to reveal the list of Real destinations handily. Click and listen! You gotta love it. By the way, a similar Dock icon for iTunes Music works this way for your MP3s too. Also, once you have a few links collected, it's child's play to copy or share them.

Especially considering that this is Rev 1 beta software, RealOne Player is a peach. Simple, clean, and a standard OS X application, RealOne Player is a good opportunity for new OS X users to get oriented. Like the venerable Mac OS, the menu bar across the top changes in context. A standard practice under OS X is to place the same functionality in the same menu locations across all applications. Of course, there will be some deviation from this norm, but those are the fairly rare exceptions.

Click RealOne Player to bring it to the front. A half-dozen menu items appear across the top, the first one being the program name in bold text. Click it to find About RealOne Player, and discover the program's version number, a useful feature. Underneath About is an item called Preferences. Again, this is the standard place in OS X to configure program options. One last item from that menu worthy of note is Hide. I use Cmd-H routinely to clean up desktop clutter and allow me to run a lot more stuff than my screen can handle in one fell swoop. If you want to memorize just one keyboard command, this is it.

There isn't yet a browse feature in RealPlayer. So, for now, you'll need to gather together a few web resources, perhaps starting with the destinations pages. Here are a few of my favorite Real destinations, plus a couple more:

Real Guide
Classic KING FM
CBC Radio 1
CBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 3
BikerBar Radio
Men in Black II
WFMU Jersey City
Klasyka FM Poland
National Public Radio
WETA FM Classical
WUNC Chapel Hill, NC
The Shadow Radio Theater
Car Talk Puzzler clip

During my poking around, I found it a little ominous that quite a few North American internet radio links no longer work. Just when the technology is finally ready for prime time, the links fail. And it's the home links, not the foreign (from my point) ones. The latter work beautifully. There could be several causes, but I am thinking of one particular issue that is hot right now.

Government intervention is a looming threat to internet radio and the internet in general these days. On the excuse of collecting royalties to support hard-done-by artists, various government and bureaucratic bodies are cooking up new ways to extract tax dollars from this medium. While several internet radio stations are broadcasting this news, I also came across this alternative initiative. I was reminded of two persistent truths about government bodies. First, government thirst for dollars is forever unsated. The second is that bureaucracies forever reinvent themselves. Like NATO and so many others, their original mandates expired long ago. But, as no-one enjoys standing in an unemployment line, the solution is reinvention. And if the creative juices stop flowing, then do what the rest do. Become an arm of the IRS!

As I write these last lines (August 6, 2002), President Bush has just signed a "fast track" trade bill. There may not be a connection, but I can't help relating this with the internet broadcasting issue. You see, one beauty of the internet has been the ability to move servers off-shore, an option when the local tax environment becomes onerous. With global trade agreements in place, it becomes easier to police internet broadcasts originating elsewhere, with commensurate taxing. It's all fantastic stuff.

It seems I'm not quite done yet after all. As I do a final proofing before submitting for publication, I discover as I check my hyperlinks that both Real Guide and KING FM's sites do not respond. Probably a coincidence. Ciao.