Monday, September 19, 2005

Who are Microsoft's customers?

You might think that Microsoft's customers are the average user, but an article that appeared last week might make you reconsider that position. I can't find a link on the Seattle Times site where I originally read it, but here's one. I'll post the article below, in case it disappears:

Microsoft Corp. is working on a system that will prevent consumers from skipping over commercials while watching TV programs and movies transmitted on the Internet.
"We believe in the advertising model," Microsoft executive Blair Westlake told a TV conference last week in England. "We're working on technology to distribute content that doesn't allow for fast-forwarding."
The TV and advertising industries are wrestling with how the traditional commercial TV business model will adapt to the growing popularity of personal video recorders. Many consumers prefer to skip the ads included in programming they have stored to hard disks.
The Microsoft technology, still in its early stages, would function as a streaming rather than a downloading system. Consumers couldn't fast-forward through the ads because they wouldn't be stored to a hard disk, Westlake said.

OK, a streaming system that doesn't allow the end user to skip commercials. That's horrible. It says to me that Microsoft considers it's customers to be the media providers and advertisers and not the end users. Since the late 1970s, VCRs have been available in US households and it hasn't done a great deal of damage to the economy. We now get commercials on DVDs that we can generally skip and that has damaged neither DVD sales nor other areas of the economy. Heck, there are commercial filtering programs for the internet (Microsoft uses a pop-up blocker for IE, for instance) and that hasn't seemed to hurt the economy. Let consumers make the choice as to how they are going to be inundated.

So, why do I care? Well, because in the next year or two I'm planning on expanding and reconfiguring my home network. I want to add a centralized media container and back-up center. I also want to update the hardware on our Office PC and perhaps add another box or two for other chores. I've been a loyal Microsoft customer for a number of years. I use Office and Windows XP Pro. Until the last year I used IE (and am interested in IE 7). I have not used Media Player much, especially as it has grown, preferring other media players without DRM. And therein lies the crux of my problem - Microsoft's use of DRM. I've been reading carefully the plans to integrate hardware and software solutions via Intel and Microsoft for DRM.

In some respects, I don't have a problem with DRM. I'm not one of the people who has P2P and downloads one, let alone tens or hundreds of files from the internet. I prefer to pay for my music and videos, supporting further productions and artists. However, once I pay for my music or video, I want to be able to share it as I see fit with a limited number of friends and family - like loaning the CD to a friend (something I'm currently able to do). In other words, once I buy it, I want to use it as I see fit.

The news report above is part of a larger trend of the computer industry to work with media producers to "manage the market" (note: not their customers, because the customers are themselves and advertisers - consumers are merely a commodity). By doing so, they are interested in taking from me the rights I've enjoyed - legally, according to U.S. court rulings - for well over 30 years, now. With Microsoft participating in this seizure of property rights, I'm being forced to reconsider their products.

Which do I care about more? My ability to use my legally purchased media as I see fit or, as a fairly competent computer user, my ability to run programs and my operating system? I think that there's a real opportunity for some other OS maker to step in and fill the void here. Whether it's Linux, Apple, Unix, or some other variation we have not yet seen, but some system that provides a convenient, user friendly experience that doesn't seek to preclude currently enjoyed rights for the media we choose to own. I whole heartedly agree with this post from another blogger:

So I think this should be a call to arms to Apple and the OSS cadre. You've got 2 years or so to become a completely credible alternative. If you can manage it then you can do us all a favour and blow MS out of the water. Because everyone who currently uses XP is going to be faced with the same choice I am. And that's the perfect moment to say "'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" and just switch.

(tip to Om Malik for link to the blog posting, which reminded me to write about this)

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