Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact
Ever since a pimple-faced Billy Gates released a small BASIC interpreter
for the Altair way back in the 1970s, his business interests have gone
from strength to strength.
That BASIC interpreter, and more advanced versions of it, became the mainstay
of his little empire right up until IBM launched their PC in the very early 1980s.
The licensing of MSDOS to IBM marked the start of a business growth curve
that has turned Billy into someone who's wealth almost defies measurement.
Even better than money, it has given Billy a growing ability to control
what we can and can't do with our PCs. The virtual monopoly of Windows
has also allowed Microsoft to virtually name their price and dictate
terms and conditions that would otherwise be rejected by the market.
Of course in an open market, any one is free to step up and challenge Microsoft's
domination by way of a better product, better marketing or some other array of
benefits or features -- but this simply hasn't happened.
There are alternatives to MS Windows and MS Office but, even though many
of these are very good -- and free, only a tiny percentage of the market
has even taken the time to evaluate them because Microsoft's products
"work" and change inevitably means expense.
However, I wonder if Microsoft hasn't pushed it's luck just a little too far
in recent times.
I'm betting that Microsoft's desire to cosy-up to the recording and movie
industries is going to be its downfall.
Take for example the announcement of
Windows XP Media Center Edition
signals a move that will almost certainly generate a lot of consumer resistance.
When I first read about this new version of XP which will allegedly turn your
PC into a Tivo-like box I thought "why am I bothering to reinvent the wheel
by duplicating this functionality?"
And indeed, if Microsoft's new OS did allow you to digitally record music and
video to disk then allow you to archive copies onto CD in industry-standard
formats I would be wasting my time -- but that's not the whole story.
No, Microsoft's unending quest to score points with recording and movie industries means that
the new XP will create more anger than delight amongst its users -- and it's
all to do with digital rights management (DRM)
You see -- XP Media Center Edition encrypts all the recordings it makes so
you can't swap them with friends, play them on your DVD, nor even transfer them
to another hard disk if yours breaks down or you upgrade.
For a company that has openly stated that "digital entertainment, digital
media, is the thing that's going to drive the next cycle of PC upgrades"
they really seem to have dropped the ball here.
It strikes me that if Microsoft are correct in this assertion then they're
doomed and their monopoly on our PCs is about to crumble.
When it comes to laying down $3,500-$4,000 (which is what these new XP Media Center
equipped PCs cost), most people are going to look long and hard at what they're
getting for their money.
How many people would buy a VCR that produced tapes that couldn't be played
back on any other VCR? What happens when you want to upgrade that VCR? -- yes,
you'd lose your entire collection of recordings.
That's exactly the scenario Microsoft are offering with their product.
I bet you anything you like that this decision on Microsoft's part will be
the straw that breaks the camel's back and drives a fair number of people
to other platforms.
Suffice to say that a Linux-based version of the Aardvark Tivo-like box is
well underway. No DRM to kneecap that box and it will offer users all the
freedom of a digital recorder without the limitations of Microsoft's option.
If you doubt my prediction then remember that XP Media Center is just a small taste
of the Palladium concept -- where DRM becomes an integral part of the entire
hardware/software package and you won't even be able to run your own
software unless the system is sure you have a right to do so.
I guess the problem with greed is that it just keeps growing, until eventually
it becomes self-defeating. As I'm sure Mr Gates is about to discover.
Have your say.
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