Don't like RealPlayer? You've got options

I fell into the RealPlayer quagmire minutes after I sent some friends a link to the sandhill crane webcam. They were kvetching because the webcam uses RealPlayer to stream the media – and no one wanted to install the bloated, ad-encumbered program.

I don't blame them. Except for when some loopy editor asks me a question about RealPlayer, I keep it off my system.

I'm not the only one with this attitude. Tom Spring, one of our news guys, recently reported that anti-spyware group StopBadware has RealPlayer in its sights. Read "Consumer group slams RealPlayer as 'badware'" for details.

Instead of bothering with the official version of RealPlayer, I have an alternative – a special version that doesn't have adware or other annoyances.

Welcome Back to RealPlayer

Here's the skinny: you can safely download a special version of RealPlayer, one that hasn't a bit of adware, never nags you, and doesn't litter your system with icons. It's not stripped down, either; it's just missing all those annoyances.

You can get this version of RealPlayer from a perfectly legit source: the BBC. What's cool is that few people know that this version is different.

The unofficial story, according to one source, is that the BBC's charter prevents it from "showering their viewers with craptastic ads for random American companies," so to get the BBC to Webcast in RealPlayer format, RealNetworks had to produce an ad-free player. Whether that story is true or not, the RealPlayer that the BBC Radio site offers is the real thing, just without the adware. Go to the BBC site to download the player; you'll eventually land on a Real.com page, but you'll be downloading the BBC version.

Installing BBC RealPlayer

I want to be sure your installation of the BBC RealPlayer is neat and clean, so here's my step-by-step:

1. An amazingly polite "Select program location and desktop settings" dialogue asks where you'd like to see RealPlayer icons. Uncheck both of the options; there's no need to have RealPlayer in your Quick launch toolbar and certainly not on the desktop. You'll still see RealPlayer when you click the Start menu and open All Programs. (I've removed it from there, too. That's because the only time RealPlayer is needed is when you click on a file that uses the player – which forces it to open.)

2. In the Universal Media Player dialogue, choose "Select media types for RealPlayer from a list," then deselect everything on the next page. Now scroll to "RealAudio and RealVideo" and select everything in that category. Click Finish. Now RealPlayer will recognise only its files and leave your other media player settings alone.

3. A dialogue appears offering the Weather Channel toolbar. Close it unless you want more junk in your system tray. RealPlayer loads and a window appears on screen, as does the annoying Real Message Center, plus a RealPlayer icon in the System tray.

4. In the RealPlayer window, choose Tools, Preferences, and scroll to "Internet / Privacy" in the Connection category. Under Privacy Settings, deselect all selected items. Click "Clear List" in the Scripts Command area. Select the CD category and deselect "Start Playback" and "Prompt to Save CD."

5. You're almost done. Go to the Automatic Services category and click Configure Message Center. Deselect every checked box and click OK (this will handle the icon in the System tray).

6. Go to the Automatic Services category and select AutoUpdate, then deselect "Automatically download and install important upgrades." Click OK to close Preferences and close RealPlayer. If you're prompted with an upgrade dialogue, take them up on the offer.

7. Right-click the RealPlayer icon in the System tray and close the Message Center.

That's it – RealPlayer's loaded and you're good to go.

Still Unhappy? Try Real Alternative

So even the BBC version of RealPlayer isn't good enough for you? No worries (and no whining); I have another option for you.

Michael M., from Dripping Springs, Texas, reminded me about Real Alternative, which comes with Media Player Classic. Both of the apps are free and have no known adware or spyware. In combination, they play all of the Real media files; the package includes plug-ins for Internet Explorer, Opera, Netscape, and Mozilla, so you can play music and videos right off the Web.

While you're here, you might as well think about grabbing the free QuickTime Alternative as well. With it installed, you won't need to have Apple's bloated QuickTime player, either.

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