Day one.

RealNetworks has seen the first fruit of its self-declared war against Apple Computer - declining stock values and a deluge of anger from Mac, iPod and iTunes fans.

While Apple CEO Steve Jobs sits recovering from life-saving cancer surgery, Real began its war (which it describes as a campaign in favour of freedom of choice) yesterday, offering cut-price song downloads, a community Web site and a petition - 'Hey Apple, Don't Break My iPod'.

The move follows Real's introduction earlier this month of a new technology called Harmony. This is software that lets consumers buy music from Real's online music store for playback on multiple devices, including the iPod.

Interviewed by CNet yesterday, Real CEO Rob Glaser revealed his company to have been working on its Harmony technology since the beginning of the year. "We took the decision at the beginning of the year to implement Harmony," Glaser said. Glaser only approached Jobs in April to request some form of alliance, an alliance Apple declined.

Freedom of choice is Windows-only

It should be noted that Real's "freedom of choice" campaign currently only extends to Apple's Windows-using iPod owners. Mac users are unable to use Real's service, even if they wanted to.

The petition says: "Dear Apple, Your company has long stood for innovation and open competition. Wasn't it Apple that ran the famous Super Bowl ad encouraging consumers like us to stand up for our right to make our own choices?

"We're asking that you do the same now and support the right of your own customers to make their own choices about where they buy music for the iPod. We want Freedom of Music Choice! Don't lock us in to purchasing digital music from one source. That's bad for competition. It will stifle innovation. And it will slow the adoption of digital music devices like the iPod."

Real's initiative quickly drew a response - but not one the company had anticipated. Instead of hundreds of voices joining Real in a plea for format parity, the company saw hundreds of responses using the chance to criticise Real - for its software, its business practices, its campaign.

Sample comments on the petition moved from the obscene to the erudite, so Macworld must warn readers that we are not responsible for the content on external Web sites.

Real's rapid response

Joel Mac said: "You are launching a false 'campaign' aimed at selling your own product. This has nothing to do with freedom of choice. It has everything to do with lacklustre sales on your end creating the need for you to steal from someone who does it far better."

Another message (number 48) from 'Steve' reads: "Real, I'm sorry to say this but your software has always been mediocre," continuing, "I will choose what works best for me, is most elegant, and what makes most sense, and those are the options that come with Apple products. Stop trying to hide your efforts of getting in on the market with this whole public outcry movement and instead, innovate."

Another message read: "Stop pretending that the consumer needs you. Apple, iTunes and the iPod are giving us everything we need at the usual Apple high standard."

Another critic wrote: "How would you like it if Apple gave QuickTime the ability to play Real Media streams? That would be great, in my view, so nobody would have to use your software."

Real's initial response to the flames was to change the poll, making previously-left messages unreadable and setting the poll up so voters could not comment. However, it appears Real has re-enabled comments at this time.

Petitions go head-to-head

However, as this is a petition, those who disagree with Real's position may want to actually add their votes and comments to an alternative poll that appeared last night - the 'Don't Break My Petition, iTMS Users', petition.

It's interesting to note that the latter petition has now attracted 1,269 signatures, while Real's - launched in a blaze of publicity - has attracted just 976, the majority of which are anti-Real, not Apple.

RealNetwork's shares fell twenty cents yesterday, as the company revealed its campaign would increase the company's maximum anticipated losses per share from four to five cents per share. The company lost $4.6 million in its last quarter.

Apple has described itself: "Stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod."

Apple has not yet issued any comment on Real's recent actions, but has previously threatened legal action against the company.

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