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QuickTime Heads Toward Open Standards

An interview with Frank Casanova on QuickTime 6, MPEG-4, Microsoft and Real By Dave Nagel
Friday I had a chance to interview Frank Casanova, director of QuickTime product marketing at Apple. What began as a sneak peak at the upcoming QuickTime Live conference quickly turned into a discussion about the future of QuickTime and open standards like MPEG-4. It turns out the next full release of QuickTime--in other words, QuickTime 6--will use MPEG-4 as its file format. We also discussed how open standards like MPEG-4 and the AAC audio component fit in with competing technologies from Microsoft and Real.

Real last week announced plans to support the MPEG-4 standard via plugins from Envivio. Microsoft recently announced its Corona platform, built around the proprietary Windows Media technologies, with no mention whatsoever of MPEG-4 support.

Our discussion hit on the core of what QuickTime will become in its next and subsequent incarnations and how Apple is moving everything--"every piece of our architecture and infrastructure," according to Casanova--toward open standards and attempting to bring others along with them.

QuickTime, of course, is one of the most important technologies in creative computing. It impacts not only Apple's systems customers, but anyone involved in Creative production, be it in video editing and compositing or Web production. A full 90 percent of QuickTime users are on Windows-based systems, and QuickTime 5 alone will have something like 100 million Web downloads in its first year.

With the importance and broad reach of QuickTime technology, I thought it would be useful to present my interview with Casanova in the form of a Q&A, unabridged, so that you can get an idea of what's happening with the technology and how Apple is trying to steer others into adopting open standards.

DAVE NAGEL: So what's going on with QuickTime Live this year?

FRANK CASANOVA: This is our third-annual QuickTime Live conference. We postponed it from October to February. The new dates are Feb. 11 through 14. It's at the same place, at the Beverly Hilton on Wilshire Blvd. in L.A., which is a perfect venue, perfect for our size conference.

NAGEL: What's going on this year?

CASANOVA: It's split up between really cool keynotes at the beginning of each day, a lot of hands-on instructional sessions for people [who] are writing and producing--writing code that accesses QuickTime and producing content in QuickTime format, lots of other instructional tracks about how you develop, deliver and produce QuickTime content. If you look at the program grid on QuickTimeLive.com, you'll see that we left a few of them open and untitled because, you know, anytime we get together we like to leave space for some really cool surprises, and QuickTime Live should be no exception. [Editor's note: You can view the current QuickTime Live agenda here. --Dave]

NAGEL: Will this coincide with any QuickTime news?

CASANOVA: We haven't really announced what we're going to do and when. In the past we've used it to bring people up to speed on what we're doing and let people take a peak at some of the work in progress. And we've been pretty visibly working on MPEG-4 ever since we did NAB last year. And, I'm not sure if you saw the keynote at Streaming Media West....

NAGEL: I talked to you there about MPEG-4.

CASANOVA: Right. But even at our keynote at Streaming Media West, my boss and I--Phil [Schiller]--demonstrated a variety of audio and video technologies for all the world to see. So we're not shy about the fact that MPEG-4 is the direction where QuickTime is going. You can expect to hear lot more about what we're doing with MPEG-4 and see ... the work in progress that we've done. Certainly at QuickTime Live we'll bring people up to speed on all things MPEG-4.

NAGEL: Everybody's talking about MPEG-4 right now, but what's going on with that?

CASANOVA: ... QuickTime 5 does not have anything to do with MPEG-4. So right now, our version of QuickTime that's being distributed--a million copies every few days--is massively popular, but it remains separate from our MPEG-4 development. We have, though, seeded an early version of QuickTime that has MPEG-4 built in to a set of key developers. And they've had this code for upwards of a month now. This software is letting them start testing the next release of QuickTime with MPEG-4 support and see how it fits into their applications and make sure everything works just fine.

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