PCs won't be the only ones with reinforced pirate-proofing. Other new consumer electronics devices will have to play by a similar set of rules in order to play back the studios' most valuable content, Microsoft executives say. Indeed, assuring studios that content will have extremely strong protection is the only way any device will be able to support the studios' planned high-definition content, the software company says.
"The table is already set," said Marcus Matthias, product manager for Microsoft's digital media division. "We can come in and eat at the buffet, or we can stand outside and wash cars."
Bullshit, I say.
People aren't going to movies, buying DVDs, or buying music in the volumes they once did. They're buying entertainment in ways that better suit their lives: interactive, on demand, and on the go. Big Content and their usual partners in distribution clearly are dependent on technology and CE companies to help them with their distribution problem, so companies like Microsoft obviously have a stronger hand to play if only they felt like it.
The problem is, Microsoft itself is a purveyor of closed formats. Sure, their closed formats contain boring documents and render XML, but they have as much interest as any studio would in using de facto standard platforms to curtail customer choice if it gives them an advantage.
Am I being paranoid? I wonder. If the above explanation is wrong (and I think that it's at least plausible) then whatever happened to the Microsoft I knew and loved: the one that struck fear in the hearts of media companies, cable operators, banks, retailers, and everybody else? The Microsoft that would bleed money for half a decade if it gained them market share and crushed a competitor? The Microsoft that virtually choked competitors to death if they stood between Redmond and another customer?
My guess is that Microsoft—the one that focused on winning the customer by any means necessary—is gone, replaced by a Microsoft with a different definition of "customer:" itself. Microsoft now makes decisions to advance Microsoft. If the path of least resistance means rolling over for Big Content in spite of the customer's interests, then so be it.
In a way, this represents an interesting change at Microsoft. It's almost like they're keen to play in a larger ecosystem, rather than brutally crush all those who venture into the software business. It's as if Redmond has finally bought into the idea of a rising tide that lifts all boats. It's a shame that they got the business ecosystem religion after crushing companies like Novell, Borland, Netscape, and (nearly) Apple, only to get all warm and fuzzy with the dinosaurs from Hollywood.
On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong: there's nothing new about Microsoft's behavior. They're still the "Conan the Barbarian" of the software business, out to crush its enemies, see them driven before it, and hear the lamentations of their shareholders. In their crosshairs are Google, Yahoo!, Red Hat, and Apple (again). Big Content are just the kind of thuggish, retrograde partners they need to cudgel the customer into submission.