The sad saga of Microsoft’s PlaysForSure Digital Rights Management brand for multimedia content has apparently come to a bizarre end as Microsoft’s PlaysForSure Web page (captured above) unexpectedly revealed that PlaysForSure is being subsumed by the “Certified for Windows Vista” logo. If you feel a certain amount of cognitive dissonance with the idea of media players and content (much of them already in use with Windows XP) being labeled with a Vista operating system logo, you’re not alone:
Those of you with players from SanDisk, Nokia, and Creative among others, looking for compatible music from Napster, Real Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Wal-Mart and such must now look for the “Certified for Windows Vista” logo, not PlaysForSure. Of course, Microsoft’s Zune is also certified for Windows Vista, just not certified for Windows Vista so it won’t play back the same protected files. Man, could DRM get any more consumer unfriendly?
Microsoft’s portable media center partners knew the game was over long ago as did MSN Music users and what few subscribers there were for the Microsoft-MTV Urge music service so I guess we have to chalk this up as merely herding the remaining stragglers to the exit. It’s also a way to obscure the way that Microsoft left PlaysForSure partners and customers out in the cold when they went their own way with the Zune.
Unbeknownst to many, Microsoft put the nails in its Portable Media Center coffin last year, telling licensees it would no longer develop the platform, opting instead to focus on Windows Mobile. The final word came in a public newsgroup posting Friday.
“With the re-investment of resources in media experiences on connected Windows Mobile powered devices, Portable Media Center 2.0 is the last version of our Portable Media Center software under the Windows Mobile brand. We do not plan any future Portable Media Center software upgrades or marketing activities,” wrote Microsoft’s David Bono.
Portable Media Centers first made an appearance in early 2003 under the name Media2Go. Although a number of devices and partners were shown off at the time, the platform was plagued with delays and the first PMC devices failed to hit the market until late 2004.
At which point their health was shaky because of the iPod surge. The final demise was sealed by Microsoft’s decision last year to cut out its Portable Media Center and PlaysForSure partners and build its own incompatible portable media player, the Zune.
Today, Microsoft solidified their credentials as a Digital Rights Management provider for downloadable media with the announcement at 3GSM07 of Microsoft PlayReady for mobile devices which they claim is a “Breakthrough Technology Enabling Simple Access to Broad Set of Digital Content, Including Music, Games, Video, Ring Tones and Pictures”:
Today at 3GSM World Congress 2007, Microsoft Corp. announced Microsoft PlayReady™ technology, a new multimedia content access technology optimized to meet the needs of mobile operators and handset manufacturers for digital entertainment and commerce. Supporting multiple content types, and flexible rights, Microsoft PlayReady enables operators to provide a range of new services tailored toward growing consumer interest in mobile digital media. Leading mobile operators worldwide, including Telefónica, O2, Verizon Wireless, Bouygues Telecom, and Cingular Wireless, now the new AT&T, are today indicating plans to implement Microsoft PlayReady technology.
The result of extended dialogue with the mobile industry, Microsoft PlayReady technology enables a broad spectrum of business models such as subscription, rental, pay-per-view, preview and super-distribution, which can be applied to many digital content types and a wide range of audio and video formats. Content types supported include music, video, games, ring tones and images. Audio/video formats supported include Windows Media Audio (WMA), AAC/AAC+/HE-AAC, Windows Media Video (WMV), and H.264. Microsoft PlayReady enhancements make it easier for consumers to move their content between their devices, giving them a new level of freedom with their digital content. This technology will be available in the first half of 2007 for handset and device implementation.
Wireless delivery of content to handsets continues to grow rapidly, underscoring the need for compatibility and interoperability. To address this requirement, Microsoft PlayReady has been designed to be fully backward compatible with Windows Media DRM 10, allowing devices that support Microsoft PlayReady to access content using Windows Media DRM. Microsoft will also provide an interoperability program so content may flow to qualifying DRM and content protection technologies.
I guess Microsoft isn’t joining Steve Jobs’ “no DRM” bandwagon any time soon, but that’s no surprise and in fact, the “interoperability program” mentioned in the press release seems to play up to the European governments that have Jobs so vexed.
Also interesting, but still forthcoming, will be the details on whether PlayReady actually plays nicely with the old Microsoft PlaysForSure DRM specification (based on Windows Media DRM 10) which some current mobile phones support, not to mention the new and incompatible Zune DRM (aka “Microsoft’s future“) which presumably will be on the rumored Zune Phone.
Last week the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Microsoft Iowa antitrust trial were granted an unusual request.
The plaintiffs in Iowa’s class-action antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. claim they have uncovered information that indicates the software company is violating its 2002 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The alleged misconduct surrounds Microsoft’s duty to share software hooks known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, which let disparate programs work together. The Iowa plaintiffs’ attorneys have alleged that Microsoft has not disclosed certain APIs to other software developers who want to make programs compatible with Microsoft software.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Roxanne Conlin asked the judge in the Iowa case, Scott Rosenberg, for permission to tell the Justice Department and the Iowa attorney general what her side knows. Rosenberg responded that she could provide the information if a court order or a subpoena is issued for it.
Why they would need the judge’s permission to drop a dime is explained better in the legal wrangling starting at page 7654 of the transcript from January 10, but Groklaw summarizes it nicely and observes that the DOJ regularly gets complaints about Microsoft’s adherence to the settlement, most of which are “non-substantive.” It’s hard to tell what the importance of this complaint is without details, but it is apparently making the stock market nervous.
Less serious, but certainly more amusing was the disclosure of yet another frank email from Microsoft executive Jim Allchin (previous revealed missive here). This one from 2003 lamented that Microsoft’s PlaysForSure partners were “sucking on media players” and suggesting that Microsoft open up a dialog with Apple about supporting the iPod.
Amir Majidimehr (Corporate Vice President, Consumer Media Technology Group) responded that they were offering the partners incentives and advice on how to do better; expressed hope for the upcoming Microsoft designed Portable Media Center form factor; and observed that Microsoft might yet have to roll up their sleeves to do it right.
Of course, the Microsoft Portable Media Center initiative sank like a stone along with some more partners and that’s why Microsoft built the Zune. While the PlaysForSure hardware of that era may have “sucked”, today it sure “sucks” to be a Microsoft PlaysForSure partner, not to mention a Portable Media Center partner.
Finally, Microsoft shipping their own personal media player hardware because of perceived partner ineptness sets an interesting precedent. Right now Microsoft seems to be dismissive of the PCs their OEM partners are turning out and currently is in the “help them do better” stage. One can’t help but wonder how soon that will be followed by Microsoft “rolling up their sleeves and doing it right.”