Burst.com's streaming snake oil

Salon recently ran a two part feature on Burst.com. The feature talks how Microsoft stole Burst.com technology, and positions Burst.com as a David to Microsoft’s Goliath.

Salon’s articles are normally wonderul. The problem with this one is that the author apparently didn’t have the technical background to see through Burst.com’s “technology”.

While I was Apple’s QuickTime Evangelist, I was a magnet for all kinds of folks who claimed to have miraculous codecs and other holy-grail technologies. Burst.com claimed to have a revolutionary way of delivering streaming content. Lossless. Faster than realtime.

Well, golly. You can deliver content losslessly and faster than real time via HTTP and FTP, too. Only Burst.com did this with a magical, proprietary protocol that required a magical, proprietary server that they would be happy to sell to you. The secret of the “secret sauce” that Burst.com CEO Richard Lang mentions in the feature is that there is no secret sauce.

Mr. Lang believes that Microsoft was out to get him. However, the reality is that Burst.com was, at best, a fly to Microsoft’s mountain.

Now Burst.com is suing Microsoft, a move apparently prompted by Windows Media 9’s “Instant On” feature. If you have a really fast conneciton and there are no bottlenecks along the way, it lets you see/hear media almost instantly. It works by putting a huge buffer at the client, and then filling that buffer as fast as possible so that buffering time is minimized.

QuickTime’s “Fast Start” provided much of this functionality with QuickTime 3’s progressive streaming (1998), and QuickTime 6 added the final missing piece (random access) with its Instant-On feature earlier this year. RealNetworks uses a similar method to optimize the viewing experience in RealSystem 9.

Burst.com is one of the last vestiges of the P.T. Barnums that contributed to the terminal over-inflation of the Internet bubble. It’s time that they go away, and I’m rooting for Microsoft as they pound the nails in the coffin. Microsoft’s media monopoly Goliath crushes David