Speculation – Why Did Microsoft Design Zune So Protected WM Doesn’t Play?

Below I’ve talked about the what, now for the why. Microsoft’s J Allard can do a lot of hand-waving about Plays For Sure and Zune being two complementary solutions. Or perhaps you think that Microsoft is trying to run competitors out of the market and take Apple head-on with a similar integrated, vertical DRMed platform; perhaps they want the sort of anti-competitive power people ascribe to Apple’s iPod-iTunes tie; perhaps Microsoft was tired of its Plays For Sure licensees failing to attract many customers and wanted to take the wheel. Or maybe some mix of those.

But let me throw one more possible rationale out there: because Microsoft’s “Plays For Sure” WM DRM does not accomodate the Zune sharing feature (and that’s just my speculation), they ditched it. In other words, WM DRM failed to accomodate new, emerging, and potentially unforeseen lawful uses. The end result is that Microsoft decided to force customers to rebuy their preexisting WM DRMed collections in order to make use of Zune’s novel features.

Microsoft wants Zune to be just like iPod-iTunes.  They want customers to know exactly where to go to buy music, what software to use to manage their collection, and what the device will do. It’s a fully integrated platform.  Having customers buy Napster
2.0 music, load it onto the Zune, and then find out that the Zune would
play but not wirelessly stream it would have been a disaster.
It’s exactly the frustration they’re trying to avoid. 

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that many users were already having a lot of problems with WM DRM.  Janus DRM licenses would expire randomly and it wouldn’t sync with devices right for many users.  By starting fresh with Zune, they also avoid that frustration.

However, just like Apple, Microsoft is discounting the frustration of people who want to use an alternative music vendor. Those customers who have bought PlaysForSure WMA files will certainly be confused when their Microsoft player is incompatible. Microsoft is also discounting that many customers will simply opt out of the
licensed services altogether, because they can’t trust their investment
in DRMed media. At the same time, it’s betting that the integrated platform will be worthwhile given the fact that most people’s collections are MP3s anyway.  Most people don’t own a lot of PlaysForSure files, and, just like with the iPod and iTunes, most Zune songs won’t come from the Zune Marketplace.

I still think this won’t be a winning business strategy, at least not in the short run; it’s not going to turn people away from the iPod (not this incarnation).  But, so long as they’re using DRM at all, one can make the argument that it’s a better business strategy for Microsoft than Plays for Sure. Both may be losing strategies, but Zune might be less of a loser.

Regardless, I think these DRMed services under the DMCA are a raw deal for users. These are the sorts of bizarre business decisions made in the DMCA+DRM world. But for the DMCA, this wouldn’t even be an issue.

[Updated a few times today for clarification and additions]

3 Responses to “Speculation – Why Did Microsoft Design Zune So Protected WM Doesn’t Play?”

  1. pwn.sauce
    September 16th, 2006 | 12:19 am

    ummm…. drm h4x FTW

  2. 10layers.com
    September 16th, 2006 | 8:05 am

    Whatever the reason, this pretty much means PlaysForSure is dead. The likely outcome of this seems rather obvious. Microsoft appears to have a good, but not great, offering in Zune. They are probably unlikely to make any significant dent in Apple’s market share as things stand today. Instead, it is likely that Zune’s market share will be at the expense of the iPod competitors/the iPod killers/the PlaysForSure license holders. While Zune may not be an iPod killer, it is likely to become an iPod-killer killer. Microsoft has just shafted not only its music store and music player manufacturer partners, but also customers who have invested in PlaysForSure players and music. We are covering this in Zune: the iPod-killer killer

  3. zune
    September 23rd, 2006 | 9:04 pm

    It would be dead, but Microsoft is now reconsidering, they night support it.