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Second Acts For Past Pests?

There are a couple of new programs that I've been meaning to put through some serious testing... but even if I wind up liking them, I may have a hard time convincing people to try them out.

That's because former versions of these products--Plaxo and RealPlayer--spent a long time annoying the bejeezus out of Internet users.

Plaxo's sin was one of pushy salesmanship: If you used this address-updating service, it would offer to e-mail your contacts and invite them to join Plaxo too. All too many Plaxo users took the program up on this invitation, leading to the phenomenon of "Plaxo spam." (Here's the company's defense of itself from that time.)

Now, Plaxo has reinvented itself as an address-synchronization service that can keep your contacts and calendars up to date across a variety of programs and Web sites--a task at which the existing options have been woefully deficient. Early reviews of it have been positive, so perhaps the company can redeem itself with this release.

RealNetworks' RealPlayer, meanwhile, may well have been the single most-hated commercial Windows release at its worst. Few other programs have been so obnoxious about trying to pry money out of your pocket (in the form of subscription services or upgraded "Plus" versions of the software) and so invasive of a computer (desktop and Start Menu shortcuts, system-tray icons, pop-up alerts and Web-browser toolbars).

Now--after years without any new releases, and after the popularity of Flash multimedia has made RealAudio and RealVideo far less relevant online--Real has a new release. RealPlayer 11 Beta (Windows XP or Vista) adds a noteworthy feature: the ability to save a copy of a Web site's video stream, when allowed by the site. And Real's developers swear that they've learned their lesson. This release still defaults to placing an icon on your desktop, but otherwise it seems to stay out of your way--for instance, it will only try to play files or formats that aren't associated with any other program.

(On the other hand, RealNetworks still can't resist trying to upsell users on a "Plus" edition of the program, and RealPlayer continues to bundle music-jukebox capabilities that most people probably don't need, inasmuch as iTunes ate Real's lunch years ago.)

Given the history behind each program, are you willing to give either one another shot? If not, what other programs would you suggest for the tasks--address sharing and video downloading--that each new release aspires to perform?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 10, 2007; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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