Once an employee at Microsoft Corp., Robert Glaser is the founder of Seattle-based RealNetworks. He turned himself and his company into a major competitor and bitter rival of Microsoft by the end of the 20th century, while simultaneously pioneering the market for streaming media, the technology that allows Internet surfers to download, listen to, or watch media clips online.
Glaser, a Yale graduate with degrees in computer science and economics, joined Microsoft in 1983 at the age of 21. He rose to the rank of vice president of multimedia and consumer systems within a decade, while also helping to develop popular Microsoft programs such as Excel and Word. However, as Microsoft grew into a commercial behemoth and its employee ranks grew from 250 to 15,000, Glaser grew restless, missing the excitement of a startup company and the thrill of taking on established giants.
In 1993, Glaser decided to leave Microsoft and form his own company, originally called Progressive Networks to highlight its ostensible mission of spreading progressive political ideas over the Internet. The company quickly invented the technology of streaming media. Following the release of its first product, RealAudio, the company changed its name to RealNetworks to more accurately reflect its line of work.
At one point, there seemed to be a harmonious relationship between RealNetworks and Microsoft, which purchased 10 percent of RealNetworks as an investment to improve its own Media Player and work toward greater interoperability between the two streaming media packages. However, as the U.S. government's case against Microsoft heated up in 1998, Glaser testified before the U.S. Senate that the current Media Player deliberately shut out RealPlayer music files, thus bolstering the government's anti-trust case against Microsoft. Microsoft, meanwhile, withdrew its investment from RealNetworks.
Despite such hitches, Glaser and RealNetworks continued to flourish. By summer 2001, RealNet-works maintained a registry of more than 170 million users, and radio stations, online record stores, and even major record labels all made their products available for download using the company's products. Glaser also served as the chairman and interim CEO of MusicNet, a subscription-based music delivery service that in 2001 was created by RealNetworks and three major record companies—Bertelsmann, EMI Group, and AOL Time Warner—to stream music packages over the Internet. This was a continuation of Glaser's fight against Napster, the free music-exchange network that panicked the record industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, RealNet-works, with its line of streaming audio products such as RealAudio and RealJukebox, dominated the streaming media market, which had grown into a $900 million industry, earning Glaser a sizable fortune. In 1999, Forbes placed him on its list of the richest individuals, with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion.
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SEE ALSO: Microsoft Corp.; Napster; RealNetworks; Streaming Media