September 16th 2002
By Mike Flaminio
Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 announcement has created some waves in the digital media space, as Apple, Real Networks and Microsoft vie for supremacy not only on the consumer desktop, but in Hollywood studios as well.
Britain's Independent looks at the likely impact of WMP 9 - which it notes, correctly, has only been launched not shipped - after half a billion dollars' development and four years' of programmers' labors. Indicative of MS's pushing of its own product, says The Independent, is the iRiver CD players, which plays .wma files. Not quite Windows. But not quite open shutters either.
Gates pushed WMP's - and MS's - ability to stop music and other content piracy at WMP's launch recently. Gates' spin was that he had not come to control content using MS's 'standards', but to praise the anti-piracy technologies available to broadcasters and distributors - if they adopt MS's WMP standards.
MS argues that WMP does several things: it provides better audio than MP3, high compression rates and claims better video quality to MPEG-4.
Enter, stage left, Steve Jobs. So far, the Apple CEO is dismissive of MS's foray into the world of digital media. "Who's signed up?" asks Jobs. Not studios, he says.
The Mac, Jobs says, is still at the heart of digital content creation. TV, film, audio, you name it, the Mac is there. "Microsoft is trying to catch up but there is a long way to go," Jobs is quoted as saying the article.
The iCEO goes on: ""Does the world want open or proprietary standards? Everything we hear from the movie, cable and cellphone industry is that they want open standards. Like MPEG-2 did, MPEG-4 is going to win this. It happens to be better."
Analysis: Hollywood and record company moguls are suspicious of Gates' proposals - and they're right to be. Left to Uncle Bill, all of your media would be funnelled down a big fat pipe into your networked TV, XBox and PC, all running some flavor of Windows, with a pay-per-view scheme resulting in a monthly bill. This is MS's vision of the future and the marketing and software muscle put behind this will be considerable.
But Jobs' argument that people prefer open standards isn't persuasive. People might, but 97% of people use Windows like lambs to the slaughter, while Linux users (and now we Mac folk are passionately 'open' as well, since BSD Unix took over our boxes) represent that 3% who can't stomach an MS-controlled universe. Every IS manager you've probably ever met complains about Macs' "incompatibility" with their Windows networks. Whereas everyone loves DVD players' ability to play everything from VCD to DVD-R to CDRW. Make everything Windows Media and I'm sure no one will even notice.