By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
In the past year or so I've often cited the Real Player as one of my favorite examples of a bad program -- something that takes over your computer without asking and is then very hard to remove.
I'm happy to report that Real Networks, the company that makes the Real Player, has listened to my complaints and to the criticisms of thousands of others. The latest version of the Real Player is the model of good software. It is easy to install and set up, and -- at last! -- all you do is click once to keep it from running every time you start your PC.
In one form or another, the Real Player is more or less standard on PCs and Macs. You can think of it as a combination radio-cassette player and TV set for the Internet. If you want to listen to Internet radio broadcasts such as the Random Access show that fellow Stars columnist Gene Wolf and I do each week, or if you want to watch TV clips or broadcasts on the Web, you need the Real Player.
If you're using a recent version of Windows or a fairly new Mac, you probably already have the Real Player. (It comes with Windows 95 and 98, for example.) But you surely have the old version -- the bad old version, I should point out -- if you haven't intentionally upgraded your copy of the Real Player. Waste no time getting the new one. It's free.
Here's how to get the new version. Go to the Real Networks web site at http://www.real.com and look for an icon that says "Free Real Player G2." (It's on the right.) Click the link just below it that says "Download Now." Don' be fooled by a larger image and big type referring to "Real Player Plus." The "Plus" version is not free. The "Plus" version doesn't sound better or show better pictures. It simply has more frills.
You'll find versions of the free Real Player G2 for Windows PCs, for Macs, for most versions of Unix, for OS/2 and for other operating systems.
As soon s you install Real Player G2, do yourself a favor and turn off the player's automatic loading feature. If you accept all the defaults, the new Real Player will always be running, every minute you are using your PC. (I don't know if the Mac version does the same thing.)
The half-baked idea behind this is to make the Real Player pop up faster. But modern PCs are very fast and don't need this kind of help any more than you'd need to have your mother-in-law living with you 24 hours a day just to make sure she's around when you need a baby-sitter one day a month.
Real Networks misnames this function "SmartStart." It should be called "DumbStart." Turn it off by right clicking the Real Player icon in the Tray and clicking "Disable SmartStart." Ignore the scare message you see next. Just click the Yes button.
No for some good stuff. Open the Real Player and click Options, then Preferences. Click the Upgrade tab. Click "Check for upgrade now." After the Real Player connects to its home site, it will show you a list of upgrade items. CHECK ALL OF THEM. Then click "Get It Now." The Real Player will download and then install other features that will let it outperform Microsoft's Media Player. (Media Player is the only competitor for the Real Player. It's a good player, but Real Player G2 is much better.)