Banfield and Helen Casabona
Notes/Domino will soon
come bundled with RealNetworks software, enabling users to create
high-quality audio-video clips that can be viewed in real
audio and video in online training and interoffice communications is
about to become a lot easier within Notes/Domino workgroups. You’ll
soon be able to install on top of your existing Notes/Domino
environment a combination of server software and user applications
from RealNetworks that will allow departments to record and embed
streaming audio and video clips into documents, e-mail messages, Web
pages, and even Notes discussion threads.
Domino, Lotus has announced, will come bundled with the
RealServer G2 Workgroup Edition beginning early this year.
Integrated into the Notes client will be RealProducer and
RealPlayer—software for creating streaming media and playing it back
on either the client or a Web browser. The whole package is referred
to as RealSystem G2, which you’ll initially install on top of
existing clients and servers (version 4.6.4 or 5). Later versions of
Notes and Domino will include the streaming media software as
Until now, Notes users have been able to work with standard audio
(.wav) and video (.avi) files, which have to be downloaded onto the
desktop before they can be played. Unfortunately, a five-minute clip
can take 25 minutes to download, tying up tens of megabytes on your
disk. And unless you have a good network connection and lots of
processing power, playback is also often unbearably jerky.
With streaming media, you avoid these problems because the clip
plays directly from a server. You don’t have to wait for a huge file
to download. Nor must you allocate gobs of disk space or worry about
the media’s length or size. Instead, the server sends the clip as IP
packets over the Internet, and you watch and listen to the clip as
it arrives. In the Lotus implementation, moreover, special software
makes sure that good quality audio and video arrives in a smooth,
continuous stream, even if you don’t have the fastest processor or
Streaming media has already caught on in big corporations.
Boeing, Novell, Merrill Lynch, and Nortel Networks are all
RealNetworks customers who use streaming media for company-wide
executive announcements, in employee training, to get product
updates to the salesforce, and for other industry-specific needs.
These companies already have intranets in place that reach all their
employees, and adding audio and video to existing Web pages is a
fast and inexpensive way to reach this same audience with sound and
Now this power will be easily available to the individual
workgroup. As of this writing, some details of the integration are
still being worked out, but here’s a look at how it will probably
Using Media in Daily Communications
Let’s say you want to annotate a Notes document you’re reviewing
with spoken commentary. You fire up a multimedia-enabled PC, which
should have a microphone and perhaps a video capture device as well.
Then from the Notes client, you open a wizard that shows you how to
record your comments and embed them in the document.
The wizard, which is based on RealNetwork’s RealProducer
application, encodes your audio as a streaming RealAudio file and
store it on a department server. In the document, the wizard inserts
a visual representation of the clip that contains a pointer to the
actual audio file on the server. The wizard makes this whole process
especially easy by walking you through all decisions, such as
whether to record a new file or use an existing one, where in your
document or Web page to insert the pointer, and how to upload the
media file to the server.
You return the document to its author, for example, in an e-mail
or by posting it to a discussion database. The author double-clicks
the embedded pointer to open the RealPlayer window and begin prompt
playback of your comments, which are streamed directly from the
department’s RealSystem G2 server. The author can record his or her
own responses to your comments, and then send the document back to
you or to others in the group.
You can also embed streaming media files into Web pages on the
department intranet; people using a browser instead of the Notes
client can also use RealPlayer to play back the clips. Plus you can
embed links within a video, for example, so that clicking at a
particular point during video playback opens another document or Web
Good Quality Playback Over Any Connection
How well a streaming media clip plays on your computer has
traditionally depended heavily on your computer’s processing power
and the bandwidth, or speed, of your network connection. A video
streamed to your average home PC over a modem most likely plays back
with more jerks and fuzzier images than if you were viewing that
same movie on a professional video workstation over your company’s
With RealSystem G2, however, you can get by with a 28.8 Kbps
modem and 120 MHz Pentium (although RealNetworks recommends 166 MHz
or faster for optimal quality). So home users and small businesses
who can’t afford monthly payments for an ISDN or T1 line, or to
upgrade to every new processor chip that comes along, can still
enjoy reasonably good playback.
One reason for this is a new RealNetworks technology called
SureStream, which dynamically adjusts the media stream during
playback to accommodate your connection’s bandwidth, optimizing it
on the fly to play smoothly no matter how slow or congested your
The RealSystem server also includes Intel’s Streaming Web Video
technology, which optimizes audiovisual quality based on your
processing power. As a result, you should get an 80 percent
improvement in frequency response over previous streaming delivery
systems, which means smoother motion and sharper, clearer images.
You can also get stereo and near-CD quality sound, even over a 28.8
Connect Glues It All Together
IBM HotMedia Connect is middleware
that sits between Lotus and RealNetworks technologies on
both the client and server sides. Its job is to make
sure that streaming media files seem like just another
component of the Notes/Domino
To the user, streaming media files are just another part of the
Notes/Domino environment. Not only do you create and view your clips
from the Notes client, but you can take advantage of all the power
of Domino to manage them—storing media files in databases, indexing
them for searches, sharing and replicating them, regulating who can
access them, and so on.
System administrators similarly manage the RealSystem G2 and
Domino servers through a single interface.
What’s going on
behind the scenes, however, is the close integration of two distinct
technologies that work in tandem to perform specialized tasks. On
the client side, RealPlayer and RealProducer create and play back
media files. In the meantime, the Notes client provides access to
those files as well as to all your data and other applications. On
the server side, the RealSystem G2 server is the bit pump that
streams media over the intranet, recovering lost packets, adjusting
for bandwidth, and otherwise making sure the media arrives in a
smooth, continuous stream. Meanwhile, the Domino server performs its
usual file management, replication, collaboration, and security
Close integration of two servers,
each performing specialized tasks, lets users treat
streaming media files like any other Domino asset.
System administrators can manage it all from a single
What makes the disparate parts of the system work as one is a
technology from IBM called HotMedia Connect, which is also part of
the Lotus bundle. HotMedia Connect is middleware software, which in
this case means it sits between the Lotus and RealNetworks parts of
the system. It moves files between Domino and RealSystem servers,
maintaining links between pointers and their associated media clips,
rerouting these links after replication so pointers refer to the
appropriate server, and otherwise making sure things run smoothly.
Streaming Media Standards
The RealSystem G2 server can run on a variety of operating
systems, and it supports several of the emerging media standards.
These include the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), which
controls the streaming media moving across the network. RealSystem
also supports Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language
(SMIL)—the World Wide Web Consortium recommendation for multimedia
integration, timing, and layout, which can make it easier for
Notes/Domino developers to add advanced functionality to their
streaming media, such as streaming text and animation.
No Live Broadcasting but You Can Search the Web
Lotus and RealNetworks figure that workgroups will use streaming
media mostly for training and prerecorded communications. Their
integrated software therefore won’t include live broadcasting, which
is available in the RealSystem G2 Enterprise Edition. As a result,
you won’t be able to air live broadcasts of department meetings or
to use a hidden video camera to discover who’s pilfering lunches
from the staff refrigerator. But you and your coworkers will be able
to enjoy the estimated 300,000 hours of live RealAudio and RealVideo
programming that’s available each week on the Internet. Indeed, you
can even use RealPlayer to search the Web for your favorite topics.
Cristine Banfield is product manager for the enterprise products
group at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based producer of streaming media
products and services for the Internet and corporate intranets. She
has an MBA from the Harvard Business School. E-mail: email@example.com.
CASABONA is a Group Computing senior editor.