Zune: Microsoft goes for closure

After posting a fairly positive commentary on the Zune player it pains me to say that it looks like Microsoft’s willingness to compromise its technology in order to satisfy the increasingly shrill demands of the content industry means that the player will be significantly less interesting or useful than it first seemed.

As more reports come out on how the DRM will work it looks like you won’t even be able to play protected media from non-Microsoft sources like Napster.

According to EFF

Microsoft’s Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or “rented” from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service.

They believe this because

Buried in footnote 4 of its press release, Microsoft clearly states that “Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264” — protected WMA and WMV (not to mention iTunes DRMed AAC) are conspicuously absent.

Of course this may just be an omission, and it’s certainly one they could correct.  Much more worrying is that Microsoft has clearly stated that they will wrap DRM around ALL files shared from player to player so that the recipient will only have three days/three plays – and this will apply even to unprotected content, stuff you’ve written and recorded yourself and even Creative Commons licensed material (thereby breaching the CC license).

According to the Zune Insider blog

There currently isn’t a way to sniff out what you are sending, so we wrap it all up in DRM.  We can’t tell if you are sending a song from a known band or your own home recording so we default to the safety of encoding.

I love the use of the word ‘safety’ here- safe for the media-industrial cartel, I suspect, but not for ordinary users.

More on this on Medialoper, which christens it ‘viral DRM’ and points out that

wireless music sharing is turning out to be one of those features that seemed better when it was just a rumor

In fact the whole Zune project is starting to look like a fantastic opportunity that will be thrown away just in order to keep the record and movie industries on board. Why didn’t Microsoft  decide to build a great, open player and store and offer unlocked content from artists who it would support. After all, instead of spending a few hundred million dollars marketing a player that won’t do what we want, they could have given the money to recording artists to make great content.

5 Replies to “Zune: Microsoft goes for closure”

  1. Yep, I saw this too. One thing does puzzle me about Apple though. One thing that endeared the Palm to people was the ability to write your won applications. you even alluded to this in your previous post about Zune, regarding the benefits of a developer ecosystem. So why aren’t Apple opening up the ipod as a dev platform. If games are available it must be possible to do it.

    In the end I think MS are just to slow to market with this, and just too restricitve in their offering to punch theri weight

  2. Now, it’s time to build an openhardware portable music player 😀 And it has to play OGG and not MP3.

    Boycott of Zune and Ipod!

  3. sounds like a plan 🙂
    althrough i get the feeling that player could play any format, do wireless transfers, and be open and have a battery life of 50 hours to the charge, and still be trampled by the wrath of the large legal and marketing slush funds of apple and microsoft, not to mention the RAA.
    but i’d buy it :p

  4. Thought it was too good to be true about the Zune!

    I’m a musician and I have no problem with my bands music being shared. It’s a great promotional tool.

    Since sharing my iTunes libraries with about 10 work colleagues I’ve actually bought more music than I would’ve done had I not started sharing music.

    When are the DRM rulers going to measure the real benefit of offering unlocked content?

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