Practical Technology

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Microsoft’s Zune DRM Madness


I have little love for Microsoft’s business tactics, but even I was a bit surprised to find that Microsoft’s so-called iPod killer, Zune, won’t be able to play Microsoft’s own DRM ‘protected’ WMA and WMV files.

What were they thinking?

Most DRM (digital rights management) protection is crap anyway. It gets in the way of playing, not to mention backing up, your digital music or video. And, now, Microsoft has taken it one step farther. With this smooth move, you can’t even play Microsoft’s WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WMV (Windows Media Video) files on their forthcoming Zune.

I wonder what Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, MusicMatch, MTV Networks Urge, and Yahoo! Unlimited customers think about this? All their media files are locked up with Microsoft DRM, which won’t play on the Zune.

Microsoft’s bogus PlaysForSure campaign, which ‘guaranteed’ that its DRM-protected files would play on any PlaysForSure device, never looked hollower.

Customers! Ha! I wonder what the dozens of Microsoft partners who bought into Play for Sure think about this latest move. Once more Microsoft has suckered companies into partnering with it, only to leave them high and dry when the Evil Empire no longer needs them.

Don’t think by the way that I’m over-reacting to a footnote in the Microsoft Zune fact sheet (MS Doc link). In an Engadget interview, J. Allard, Microsoft corporate VP said, “The PlaysForSure is still a program we’re going to invest in, we still have a lot of partners there, and for a class of consumers who that want to have a hand-crafted media experience and maximize their choice, we have an answer. There’s another class of consumers that just want to get digital media, and they just want to be able to go to one store and have it all just plain, dead simple, and don’t want to know what a codec is.”

Funny, wasn’t that what PlaysForSure was supposed to do?

Why, yes, yes, it was. If you read the PlaysForSure’s What is PlaysForSure page, you’ll see it says “Look for the PlaysForSure logo if you’re shopping for a music or video device and you want to make sure the digital music and video you purchase will play back on it every time. Match the PlaysForSure logo on a large selection of leading devices and online music stores. If you see the logo you’ll know your digital music will play for sure.”

I don’t see anything there about this being for people who want to have a hand-crafted media experience, do you? Or as Allard put it in the interview, anything about PlaysForSure being for those who go to “Fry’s Electronics and hand pick the graphics card, the case for their computer, they build a Windows-based PC from the ground up.”

Let’s get real.

Allard also said that “Zune is really about music, it’s our deep dive with music first and foremost.”

No, it’s not.

It’s all about Microsoft squeezing its customers and partners for every last dime as they’re forced to either buy both PlaysForSure and Zune media or, more likely, dump their PlaysForSure media and hardware for the new Zune. I really have to wonder if Microsoft hasn’t overplayed its hand this time. This isn’t like Windows where they can mess up with such things as re-re-releasing (yes, that’s three) a critical Internet Explorer patch until they get it right and its users will still put up with it.

I’m not crazy about Apple’s DRM, but you know what, at least I can play my FairPlay AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) on both my iPod and anything that will run iTunes. I’m also pretty darn sure Steve Jobs isn’t going to pull my media files out from underneath me anytime soon.

Microsoft? Well, they’ve just told you what they’re going to do. You can buy a Zune if you want, but I’m sticking with my iPod thank you very much.

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