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Microsoft Puckering Up

Microsoft’s new media center caters to entertainment industry preferences:

    If Microsoft’s handling of digital-rights management in its new Media Center PCs is any indication, Redmond is perfectly happy to sell out its customers to keep the entertainment industry happy.

    What I’m talking about are features built into Windows XP Media Center Edition that let some next-generation PCs act like TiVo-esque personal video recorders (PVRs). The first Media Center machines, due before Christmas from HP, also come with a DVD burner. That combination means you can copy TV programs you’ve recorded using the PVR features from your hard drive to DVD.

    THAT’S WHERE the catch comes in: The DVDs you burn can only be played on the same machine on which they were recorded.

    I’ll pause now to let you reread that last sentence because you couldn’t believe your eyes the first time through.

    Microsoft says it’s designed the Media Center this way to block the “wholesale” copying of copyrighted material. But–stop me if I’m wrong–I always thought “wholesale” referred to one person making a million copies of something and selling them, rather than a million people copying a single program for their own private use.

Whoa, good imagery, David.

    I THINK the real goal here is to convince Hollywood that Microsoft itself–forget PCs!–isn’t a threat, which will in turn make it easier for Bill Gates to cut preferential deals with the entertainment moguls. If solving Hollywood’s piracy problems is what it takes for Bill to ink those deals, who cares what consumers want?

    Or maybe Microsoft is trying to do to the entertainment business what many people believe the company did to the desktop software industry–helping potential competitors sail to their own doom. It’s possible that Microsoft is acceding to Hollywood’s wishes in order to let Tinseltown anger customers and make a fool of itself. Then Microsoft can say, “We tried doing it their way and look what happened!”–and then proceed into the digital-entertainment business as it pleases.

    Whatever Microsoft’s motives really are, I think that eventually consumers will inflict their wrath upon both MS and Hollywood. The entertainment industry needs to find new revenue models that reflect the realities of digital media and consumer preference. By kissing up to the Hollywood powers, Microsoft is only delaying the inevitable and siding with the bad guys against its own customers.

On the cutting edge of customer relations: Microsoft.

Brad King of Wired is on it already:

    Today, manufacturers seem more likely to produce computers that operate more like VCRs or DVD players than the PCs people are accustomed to. These machines have copy-protection embedded in the hardware, much like home recorders that keep people from making copies of videos they have purchased.

    The security sounds like a good idea, but it increases corporate control over networked systems. The code for those digital rights management systems is closed to outside developers.

    ….Manufacturers and technology developers are steadily adding security components to their devices. Digital TVs will likely come with a broadcast flag that limits where you can watch recordings. Music companies are testing CDs that won’t play on computers. DVDs won’t play on computers that run certain operating systems.

    For such restrictions to work, media companies must be able to hunt down and stop anyone who attempts to get around those controls. The DMCA allows them to do just that.

    The threat of lawsuits has motivated companies to develop locked-down, closed computers. And those restrictions no longer mean a product won’t sell.

    Analysts believe Microsoft’s new version of Windows XP — which is intended for PCs sold as digital entertainment systems, and locks video recordings onto an individual computer — will fail in the marketplace. They could be right, since TiVo gives consumers more flexibility.

    But it will take time for the courts to decide what TiVo can — and can’t — do. Microsoft will likely use that opportunity to push its new device.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014.Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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