As musicians, it matters to us, I think, how music is consumed and distributed. Dave McLauchlan of the Windows Media Devices Group at Microsoft had plenty to say about the technologies that drive their devices. As a member of the team behind PlaysForSure, though, he also had some mythbusting to do on the Zune front. While Microsoft currently declines to comment on their upcoming media device, unfortunately many outlets have gotten some information blatantly wrong, including the widely-publicized story that Microsoft was turning its back on its existing Windows DRM and subscription services. Dave says it ain’t so:

There has been absolutely no official correspondence from Microsoft regarding any plan to *not* support Windows Media DRM nor subscription services. The Zune team has specifically not answered any questions related to technologies like subscription and the DRM mechanism behind it.

I think where people are getting confused is that we have confirmed that Zune will not be a member of the PlaysForSure program. PFS is about much more than subscription or DRM although those are two important components. However, a device can meet (or not meet) PlaysForSure certification on the basis of something as simple as the implementation of MSC.

So, not to make ANY claims or “hints” about what features Zune will ship with (the device will ship this year, so more news will be forthcoming) – but it is not necessarily a correct assumption to believe that because the device will not be part of the PlaysForSure program that it won’t use Windows Media DRM nor support subscription. I should also be clear that PlaysForSure isn’t going away. Microsoft remains committed to an ecosystem using Windows Media technology that a large number of partners have committed to. However, there are really two strategies in the market right now – cross-brand ecosystems (PFS) and singular brand ecosystems (Apple). The former is gaining in share and units sold, but the latter has enormous share and won’t give that up easily.

Just as Samsung sells RAM to Apple, but makes PlaysForSure devices too – Microsoft is electing to build an ecosystem around the Zune concept, but remains committed to the PlaysForSure ecosystem which many partners have joined us with.

That should be good news for Windows Media loyalists. If you look long enough at Microsoft’s bizarre Flash teaser for Zune, pictured below, I’m sure you can find many more details, in allegorical form.

Coming Zune: Zune Teaser Site [Official]
Music Site, Regina Spektor, the NYC pianist/singer whose quirky music is featured in the otherwise slightly disturbing Flash trailer

Public relations representatives from Microsoft declined comment on this story, though they did provide the standard line:

Under the Zune brand, Microsoft will build a community for connecting with others to discover new music and entertainment and will deliver a family of hardware and software products�with the first products shipping in this year.

While there are no spokespersons available for interviews, I wanted to ensure that you received the following statement from Chris Stephenson.

â€Å“Today we confirmed a new music and entertainment project called Zune. Under the Zune brand, we will deliver a family of hardware and software products, the first of which will be available this year. We see a great opportunity to bring together technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together.â€Â?

–Chris Stephenson, GM of marketing, Microsoft

You may also want to check out these Zune-related blogs from people at Microsoft working on the project. Zune Insider and Madison and Pine.

So, there you have it: the blogosphere will be the place to watch this story. It’s a real study in contrast, ironically, between the relatively open cultural climate at Microsoft as far as press relations (even if they may just be baiting some stories) and the intensely closed atmosphere at Apple. Though, in fairness, I’m regularly in touch with folks who work for Apple. Which is funny, because I just got a really great tip from an Apple blogger on an awesome new FireWire audio interface he’s working on, and h–

Kidding. I’m kidding. (Sorry, Apple-ites; couldn’t resist.)

  • Theron

    There are Windows Media loyalists? Why would anyone be pro-Windows Media?

  • See also

    I don't feel particularly loyal to any electronics company, other than whatever my latest toy is. 😉

  • Matt

    I dig the new windows media player and IE7 works great too. I think they're headed in the right direction, finally. It's been a few since they had the mass of humans talking…

  • What's the link to the Zune teaser pictured in the article?

    I'm not a "Windows Media loyalist" but in all fairness, WM runs video much faster, with higher resolution and fewer crashes than Google Video player or QuickTime. For audio, WM is better than both RealMedia player and WinAmp. On my PC. When it can find the damn codecs. YMMV.



  • Whoops! Left out the Coming Zune link.

    And anyway, yes, I think the anti-Microsoft rhetoric sometimes distracts from the actual merits of the products. These are all big companies, made up of individuals, some of them quite talented.

    Oh, except I still prefer Winamp to Windows Media Player. (Why do you prefer WMP, Kevin? Admittedly, I haven't played much with WMP11, only v10.)

  • No particular reason. I have both WMP and WinAmp installed on my systems. But WMP just works better most of the time for audio and it also does video. So that's what I've gravitated towards.



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  • To address the question posed by "The Pond" when he said:

    "A player, it seems can play all plays-for-sure stuff, but not be plays for sure certified. Makes it sound like plays-for-sure limits the capabilities of a device. Or…why else would they not just PFS certify it?"

    There are over 300 requirements in the PlaysForSure program for portable devices, the playback of certain content types is only but a fraction of those. Also, PlaysForSure certification is a choice made by the vendor – Creative, iriver, Samsung, etc… elect to seek PFS certification for business and technical reasons.

    The Zune folks have elected to not seek PlaysForSure certification – but that says nothing about the technologies they plan to implement nor is it a reflection on the requirements of the program. A device could be fully compliant with all 300+ requirements and elect not to seek certification if so desired.

    Cheers, Dave.

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