Tuesday, October 21, 2003

FREEDOM OF CHOICE - SO LONG AS IT'S WINDOWS: Meet David Fester, who has the thankless task of trying to persuade the kids that iTunes sucks and that you'd be far, far better off waiting for Bill Gates to tell you what to do:

PressPass [Microsoft's in-house news puppy]: We've heard that Apple will be launching a Windows-based version of iTunes. Do you see that as impacting Napster or other Windows-based services?
Fester: iTunes captured some early media interest with their store on the Mac...

And something over ten million song sales, too, even when they were only available to five percent of American computer users. Bit more than "early media interest." We notice from Google News that they're continuing to attract media interest, too...

... but I think the Windows platform will be a significant challenge for them. Unless Apple decides to make radical changes to their service model, a Windows-based version of iTunes will still remain a closed system, where iPod owners cannot access content from other services.

This is a lovely piece of doublethink - what he means is other services are using their own proprietary formats rather than MP3, so while he's telling the truth, it's not as if it's Apple who are refusing to let iTunes users access other services - it's the choices made by other services.

Additionally, users of iTunes are limited to music from Apple's Music Store. As I mentioned earlier, this is a drawback for Windows users, who expect choice in music services, choice in devices, and choice in music from a wide-variety of music services to burn to a CD or put on a portable device.

Windows users, it seem, expect a lot of choice, except when it comes to Internet Browsers or operating systems, or email applications. It's kind of funny that they only seem to want lots and lots of choice when they're choosing amongst stuff Microsoft don't supply themselves, isn't it? And choice in music services? They may want initially to ip-dip-dog-shit between providers, but what everyone wants is one place they can get everything from. Nobody laments when buying books off Amazon that they don't have to visit thirteen different book sites to get the title they want. And even if people do want choice in music services, why would having iTunes cause them a problem? If I order the lasagne verde, it doesn't mean I've given up the option of the Pizza with egg on it, does it? Likewise, if I choose to buy my shoes in Dolcis, it won't mean I'm going to rule out going to Freeman, Hardy and Willis next time - although (and this is where Microsoft are presumably frit) if Dolcis serve me the shoes I want, at an affordable price, and do so politely, I'm probably going to go back to them next time rather than take a risk on a different shop. Microsoft, of course, have been big winners from the lethargy of consumers in the past and so it's little wonder they're worried their system might lose out this time round for exactly the same reason.

Lastly, if you use Apple's music store along with iTunes, you don't have the ability of using the over 40 different Windows Media-compatible portable music devices. When I'm paying for music, I want to know that I have choices today and in the future.

Yes, you have the choice of using an awful lot of crappier devices. Having said which, I'm quite happily using a Rio MP3 player with iTunes (although not, admittedly, Apple downloads). As I understand it, I couldn't use it with all the Microsoft formatty-stuff, could I?

PressPass: How do the current Windows-based services differ from iTunes?
Fester: As I mentioned, there are lots of choices in Windows music services. The service that offers consumers the most tracks and best experience will win the hearts and minds of consumers. If you look at Napster, it will launch as the world's largest online service with over half a million tracks from all the major labels and hundreds of independents on October 29. Napster goes way beyond individual downloads, offering advanced services such as unlimited downloads, customized radio, shared playlists, music videos and more. Music fans can use dozens of devices with Napster, and can even enjoy this service in the convenience of their living room with a remote control and Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004.

Isn't this pretending that people are going to benefit from having things they don't really want? 'Unlimited downloads' is just marketing speak for 'pay up front for more than you actually want'? Customised radio is already with us - you can poke about with Launch at Yahoo or tune in to Live365 for that. Shared playlists maybe, but you can't actually share the tracks, can you? We are amused that the final sentence gives the lie to the claims that Microsoft is interested in consumer choice - it's all part of their bid to take control of your TV, isn't it?

All told, music fans should look for services that offer the best experience and take advantage of the best digital media platform available on Windows. With Windows Media 9 Series, you get faster starts, better quality music, and support for the most devices.

Yes! Use Windows Media 9, when the tunes will start playing a little bit faster than on a Mac - erm, admittedly, you have to wait a couple of weeks until the service launches, and so instead of waiting a half-second to hear Bobby McFerrin you'll have to wait about 1.2 million seconds, but you'll find the wait worth it in the end. Otherwise you might find yourself leaving the fold... and if you don't have your stereo driven by Microsoft... you might start to wonder why you have to have your computer powered by Microsoft... come back, come back...

Further perspectives on this from The Register.

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