Me and Microsoft, Part II

Executive summary: Had dinner the other night with Jim Allchin and some other wonderful folks. We talked broadly about open source, Internet Explorer and Windows, Window Media Center, identity management and passport and widely about DRM and how effed the whole system is. And though there were certainly MSFT-friendlies around the table, it was refreshingly not a total MSFT lovefest. Details follow. Part 2 in a series of a couple.

Me and MicrosoftOkay, so you wanna know what I think? I don’t think MSFT is a bad company. Maybe I’m basing that only on my interactions with Scoble and Jim, Linda, Neil and James and others from MSFT that I’ve historically interacted with, but really I think that there’s some decency in there. Thomas told me that of the AGYM companies, MSFT employees seem to be the most open and willing to engage in honest conversations about the failings of their employer. Are there bad apples in the mix (maybe the wrong analogy to use, ehmm)? Of course. Has MSFT been arrogant, closed, anti-standards, proprietary and at times evil? Yeah, probably (though that last part is often in the eye of the beholder). Achieving the ol’ American dream doesn’t come without crushing some toes.

So here’s my beef (and Tara was totally right to push this issue with Jim): when it comes to certain, shall we say, “politically-charged” (and economically-impactful) issues, why doesn’t MSFT shore up on the side of democracy and freedom of information and expression and rally its allies against the intellectual police state? Ok, fine… scrap the hyperbole, here’s what I want: just let us use our media however we damn well please! Eff this DRM bullshit. You know it’s not good for your customers and it’s ultimately not good for your bottom line, either.

O o o wait. Ok. Call my bluff, go ahead. Well, see, I’m not that naive and Tara isn’t either. We know it all comes down to business (as usual).

We know that quote-unquote consumers are only part of your audience — that Hollywood is also one of your most well-endowed customers (I’m talking big feet, here); that they rely on you to lock down and handicap the technology and tools that you build so that they can maintain their stranglehold on eff-you-ectual property.

I git it, I git it. Duh.

But how about this? Who said I ever cared about bidness (as usual)? Now, I’m not down with making threats much (I mean, this is a personal blog, big friggin’ whoop what I have to say here), but it is obvious, at least to me and everyone I know, that you’re fighting a losing battle. I don’t even have to back it up. Time will tell. What the system can’t break down, it will route around. And DRM schemes are being broken so fast that the money you’re spending researching new ones is almost certainly costing you future allies in the Doomsday fight against Hollywood. So you’re losing in both respects: you’re certainly not getting points with your Media Center enthusiasts who just want to be able to play their legally purchased media anywhere and by not making a stand against the DRM that-turns-our-computers-against-us, it’s you that looks bad, even though you’re only pushing Hollywood’s agenda.

Oh, and about blaming it all on Apple and the iPod…. for a minute there you had me going… It did seem to make sense that geez, Apple’s the real offender here, keeping iTunes and the iPod all locked up and proprietary. But then hey, I realized that if your players were decent and you’d won the player war, you’d be doing the exact same thing that you accuse Apple of, which, by the way, is perpetuating their winning streak going and keeping you outta that business (hmm, didn’t you do this with the desktop? what comes around, goes around maybe?).

You can’t just say “well, they’ve found success with the iPod, they’re making boatloads of cash, they’re the ones that should fix the DRM problem and take on Hollywood.” That’s bullshit and now that I’ve thought about it, a bit insulting that you would suggest that MSFT has nothing to do with the problem.

But I’m jess sayin’, yoo kno?

Anyway, I’ve got nothing against you guys personally. That’s the beauty of working for a monolith: your individual actions have much less bite when it comes right down to it. So let’s call this an academic exercise: you all get F’s in my book for sticking up for the little guy and hell, I would’ve suspended Hollywood by now and sent it off for a remedial education in the importance of sharing ones trucks in the sandbox of life… but truly, I’m a peon in the scheme of things; you guys are the ones building your “open” DRM into our tools, into our media and into our computers. You do have the power to make a difference. So, uhm, sorry if I don’t buy your logic that Apple’s all to blame or that the problem is out of your hands. Personally, I can only choose not to buy your DRM’d crap and instead spend my money supporting causes that are working to dismantle the intellectual police state that you’re creating.

Ok, I’m done. Remember that this totally isn’t personal — hey, I like you guys — it’s just your and Hollywood’s big picture I ain’t too fond of! Kbai.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

8 thoughts on “Me and Microsoft, Part II”

  1. Well I definatley think that Microsoft could make a major difference in the DRM world. If they were against it… It wouldn’t be around!

    Although I generally don’t have problems with DRM, mainly because I just buy the cds. It doesnt have DRM (at the moment, till someone else pulls a Sony) Big deal it takes a little longer to drive to the store to buy the damn cd, but you dont have to worry about DRM.

    But yes I agree that it shouldnt be around and that it is crippling the way things work.

  2. Ah Jake…dontcha know that the newest Coldplay CD is seriously riddled with blocks and barriers? Can’t play it on your computer and in various types of stereos. This means that CDs are soon to fall prey to the whole DRM, turn-our-computers-against-us syndrome as well.


  3. Thanks for calling MSFT (and maybe Allchin personally) on “Apple did it!”.

    For the last few years I’ve been thoroughly disgusted by the music industry’s attempts
    to keep the stranglehold they’ve put on things. I hoped that if we all held our breath
    for long enough, the old media firms would just burn to the ground on their own, and
    something new and useful would spring up in its place. Something that didn’t suck.

    Now I realize that unless Apple, MSFT, Google, and Yahoo all hold their breath, and deny
    SONY et al the special priviliges that they enjoyed under the old ways, it’s not going to
    hapen. What we’re seeing instead is AGYM competing amongst themselves to lead the
    old monsters safely into the new world.

    Steve Jobs will be a hero for leading the music industry out of the desert and into the
    promised land. Oh, and Disney, too.

    OK, that may be inevitable at this point, romantic delusions about Google’s
    non-evilness aside. What’s really depressing is how powerful old media is in DC, how
    likely it seems that they will get special dispensation from Congress to make the new
    world in the image of the old. The EFF is a fairly small voice, and anyone who stands
    up for digital rights is painted with a radical brush by those who benefit from the status quo.

    The only effect I can have at this point is to teach my children that Hollywood sucks,
    the music industry sucks. They think they own art and culture, but they kill everything
    they touch. The only solution is to make your own punk rock.

  4. The funny thing about blaming Apple for DRM is that it reeks of dodging the issue. If Microsoft took the higher moral ground and fought DRM they would actually have more appeal than Apple.

    I’d say one of the reasons Apple is having success over Microsoft in the portable media player market is large part because people trust Apple forcing DRM on users more than Microsoft doing the same. Personally I wouldn’t trust any company imposing DRM on me.

  5. Actually I think Apple’s success is because its DRM is relatively liberal. I mean, you can burn up to seven unprotected audio CDs from a playlist (and then make unlimited copies of the CDs).

  6. Is Apple to blame !?!?

    I never understood why anybody would buy that argument. I would expect MSTF folks to see through the(thier own) lies.

    Let’s see… Both have proprietary DRM. Apple has a player for Windows. Where is the WMA/DRM player for MacOS ?!?!

    Ok… so MSFT has an API for those who want to build WMA/DRM into other players. But isn’t that just a interface to MS-code doing the work? Have they ever documented the codec/protocols for anyone?

    No matter how “open” they would like you to think they are… don’t you still have to use MS software to play the data?

  7. Hum… I don’t think it’s really in the Hollywood & Record Industries intrest that DRM is still being pushed. After all DRM is not halting piracy. DRM is just preventing users from having freedom of choice as to what channel they use to purchase the media. It’s the DRM owner and distributor that profits. Since people have invested so much in products (content and hardware) that use Apple’s DRM, Apple has an assured flow of sales and greater negotiating powers with the content providers. They can maintain high prices on what they charge for distribution. Technology should allow the content providers to massively slash prices on distribution, but DRM has allowed the distributor(s) to keep these prices artificially high. The genius of the tech companies has been to maintain the illusion to the content providers that DRM is necessary to protect them, while at the same time convincing the consumer that the content providers will not be convinced to sell any content without DRM.

  8. Daniel, I think you might be right w/r/t music DRM, but in the case of DVDs, I think DRM is very much an important part of Hollywood’s strategy to control media distribution.

    With music, at 99 cents a song, you’re not making a whole lot — I’ve heard around 27 cents. Not that bad, but it’s not like the markup on DVDs. And the only way to keep selling DVDs is to control both the means of playback and the formats in which said media is transferred.

    …Hence the whole issue with Microsoft’s Media Center (and soon to be the iMac Media Center)!

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