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February 12, 2007

Microsoft announces PlayReady mobile DRM technology

Posted by David Hunter at 1:07 PM ET.

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.



Filed under 3GSM07, AT&T, Argo, Cingular, Conferences, Coopetition, DRM, Digital Media, Media Player, Microsoft, PlayReady, PlaysForSure, Portable Media Center, Technologies, Verizon, Windows Mobile, Windows Mobile 6, Zune

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February 9, 2007

Zune to cannibalize Windows Mobile like it did PlaysForSure?

Posted by David Hunter at 12:02 PM ET.

The ink on last year’s Microsoft Zune press releases was barely dry when speculation started about a Zune Phone egged on by CEO Steve Ballmer. Now the rumors are heating up again after John Letzing at MarketWatch spotted a likely FCC filing. However, reading the fine print reveals a strange duck that is “an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) device to be used for ‘consumer broadband access and networking.’” The general suspicion is that this means WiMAX which is a high bandwidth wireless technology that is just getting off the ground. To add to the mystery, Google, HP, and Intel are listed as a supporters of the FCC application.

However, Matt Hickey at CrunchGear fans the flames with the speculation that a Zune phone would run on a high speed 4G WiMAX network like the one to be built by Sprint/Nextel. This lash-up could provide a mobile VoIP offering plus the likely ability to use ordinary Wi-Fi hotspots. Even better, CrunchGear’s inside sources say that the Zune phone will be announced in March and shipped in May thus neatly upstaging Apple’s iPhone.

All of this is certainly exciting, but the idea of a Zune Phone brings up the more fundamental question of where it would leave Microsoft’s Windows Mobile partners who are ready to show off their new Windows Mobile 6 handsets next week at 3GSM. Microsoft’s Zune crew apparently has license to run roughshod over other parts of Microsoft and their partnerships as evidenced by the hapless PlaysForSure partners (e.g. Creative Technologies, iRiver, Samsung) who got blindsided by the Zune portable media player itself last year. A Zune Phone in whatever form hits right at the phone vendors who have signed up for Windows Mobile (e.g. Samsung, Palm, HTC, Motorola, LG) just when it was showing signs of success, at least in the USA. Beyond the technical particulars, the real Zune Phone question then is whether Microsoft is willing yet again to shutter one of their own projects and cannibalize their partners’ markets in favor of rolling their own.

Update: Microsoft says FCC filing not Zune-related. Fair enough, but as long as the Zune Phone remains a possibility there will still be an inherent conflict with Windows Mobile.



Filed under 3GSM07, Apple, Argo, Conferences, Coopetition, Microsoft, Palm, PlaysForSure, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, Technologies, Windows Mobile, Windows Mobile 6, Zune

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January 22, 2007

More revelations at the Microsoft antitrust trial

Posted by David Hunter at 1:18 PM ET.

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.”



Filed under Antitrust, Apple, Argo, Coopetition, Creative, Dell, General Business, Governmental Relations, Hardware, Legal, Microsoft, PlaysForSure, Portable Media Center, Portable Media Center, Technologies, Windows Mobile, Zune, iriver

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November 9, 2006

Reviewers spank the Zune

Posted by David Hunter at 4:35 PM ET.

In advance of next Tuesday’s Zune launch, the reviewers have started to weigh in and, at best, they’re damning with faint praise:

Walter Mossberg, Wall Street Journal:

Overall, the iPod and iTunes are still the champs. Still, I expect the Zune to attract some converts and to get better with time. And this kind of competition from a big company with deep pockets and lots of talent is good for consumers in the long run.

David Pogue, New York Times:

Then again, this is all standard Microsoft procedure. Version 1.0 of Microsoft Anything is stripped-down and derivative, but it’s followed by several years of slow but relentless refinement and marketing. Already, Microsoft says that new Zune features, models and accessories are in the pipeline.

For now, though, this game is for watching, not playing. It may be quite a while before brown is the new white.

Stephen H. Wildstrom, Business Week:

Maybe I am underestimating the desire of people, especially those of the MySpace generation, to share music by a more high-tech method than passing earbuds back and forth. If I’m not, Microsoft’s only hope may be to top iTunes’ menu of video offerings before Apple comes out with an enhanced video iPod, which could happen as soon as January. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Edward C. Baig, USA Today:

Zune shows promise. But I’d like to see more offerings in the store, and less stringent wireless restrictions. And Microsoft should rethink the silly points system. For now, I’m sticking with iPod.

There’s more by following the links and at the Zune News Site’s Zune Reviews page where I got some of the above.

Update: Speaking of Zune and the press, Dare Obasanjo also recalls the kerfuffle on Monday when the mainstream press led by the BBC finally discovered that the Zune is incompatible with PlaysForSure. I didn’t mention it because I considered it a “d’uh moment,” but Obasanjo wishes that Microsoft still had Robert Scoble or the equivalent to put out the fires in the press. I’m getting the uneasy feeling it may take more than that.



Filed under Argo, General Business, Microsoft, PlaysForSure, Public Relations, Technologies, Zune

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