Some dude goes off about “Why Microsoft can’t compete with iTunes”: I think he’s taking something simple and trying to make it into some grandiose statement about Apple vs. MS.
The success of the iPod is actually not too difficult to understand. Apple simply had the best software + hardware combo, and the best marketing. And by “best,” I also mean that it worked. Their software was good enough, that people who didn’t even have an iPod use it. Their solution was good enough, that most people didn’t even mind the DRM. It’s clear that people value an easy to use system with good content way over the choice of DRM, otherwise should eMusic be dominating the market?
If someone had come along and actually offered a WMA based system that worked just as well (including integration with players), and had a snazzy looking player with marketing to match, they could have done just as well. I actually applaud MS for trying to make a DRM system that is more open than FairPlay. The problem seems to be that it’s just hard to get the hardware (as well as the software/hardware interface) right. And Windows Media Player sucked for a long time. But it’s a great myth to think that somehow Apple is less evil with their DRM than MS is. It seems like people like to associate WMA DRM’s evilness with MS’s general evilness, but I think that company is way to big to be able to maintain such a coherent evil attitude.
Besides, I don’t think DRM is the result of any tech company actively trying to be evil. It’s the result of the record companies wanting to protect their content. As you can see from the selection on eMusic, it’s hard to compete if you don’t offer DRM. But I’m willing to bet that if the media companies were OK selling un-DRM’ed music from the get go, then neither MS nor Apple would be spending precious engineering resources to build a DRM solution. (Though MS might still be working on a proprietary music format. But that’s different. I mean, MP3 is/was patent-burdened as well. It’s just that it was more open than WMA was (as in it was multi-platform, and a reference decoder implementation was available in source code form)). Actually, it’s conceivable that Apple would still enforce some kind of DRM system, one that limited iTunes purchased songs to be played only on iPods.
Someday portable media players will probably be well enough understood that they’ll get standardized, and we’ll realize some of the WMA world’s original vision. But clearly we’re not there yet, so MS, Apple, and Real are all taking the paired software/hardware approach. If it ends up with more working solutions to choose form then before, then it can’t be all bad right?

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