A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Ironic Product Names Dept.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:41 PM

With great fanfare, Microsoft has introduced its "iPod killer" Zune media player. This is an interesting evolution for Microsoft, since to date it has focused on a comprehensive software solution for media content delivery and copy protection rather than hardware. They spearheaded the "PlaysForSure" program as a common umbrella for Windows-based hardware and content vendors to work with, and nearly every media player that isn't an iPod and online content provider that isn't iTunes now use this technology. Now Microsoft leaps into the hardware arena with the Zune player and announces a new software solution to go with it...

...that isn't compatible with PlaysForSure.


Such is the way DRM works -- you pay money for something that's only a software change away from not playing anymore. Microsoft is furiously spinning this, telling people, "So they're two complementary solutions -- not everyones gonna want Zune and not everyone's gonna want PlaysForSure. They're different paths there, and we're okay with both of them."

Great. So now you're selling two incompatible playback solutions. So, what, if I buy a Sandisk player and my wife gets a Zune, we've got buy everything twice? Of course not. We'll get a CD and not have to worry about it, like every sane consumer. (Assuming we haven't been driven into the embrace of Bittorrent.) Any odds on when "different path" #3 appears?

Meanwhile, in the same interview, Microsoft VP J Allard (is his first name really just "J"?) has a great suggestion on how to get video content into your shiny new Zune player:

We have really pretty strong commitment to being compatible with your existing libraries. We know we're not the first player in this space, and that there's a ton of media out there, and so we put a bunch of codec support in there. [...] Lots of DVD ripping software out there that encodes to those formats, so the most popular formats out there, whether it's MPEG-4 or H.264, we'll support those. So, we really are taking a relatively agnostic approach to different formats.

That's a fantastic idea. Too bad ripping DVDs violates the DMCA.

But there's a silver lining. If Microsoft is saying that it's OK to rip a DVD and strip out its copy protection to load it on your Zune, then it must also be OK to strip the DRM out of PlaysForSure media to load that onto your Zune.

I don't think it would be a good idea to hold your breath waiting for Microsoft to endorse that solution, though.

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