Archive for the ‘Zune’ Category

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Sanity’s music store delayed

May 31, 2007

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The debut of Microsoft and Sanity’s digital music store – announced at the end of January and one of the centrepieces of the Australian Windows Vista launch event – has been inexplicably delayed until at least mid-June.

The service was originally scheduled to go live in April; a monthly subscription costing “less than a couple of CDs” would give users access to a catalogue of over a million songs and “up to 300 new tracks per month”.

A spokeswoman for Sanity said: “we’re probably launching mid-June now.” She declined to comment on what caused the delay.

Microsoft, despite being a partner in developing the store, refused to comment on the delay, claiming it was “a Sanity announcement”.

Microsoft has spoken freely about its intent to launch an Apple iTunes Music Store rival since September last year, claiming it would be ready upon Vista’s Australian debut.

The fact that the store has evidently been in development for some time suggests the delay may be intentional, possibly so the launch coincides with the Australian debut of Microsoft’s Zune music player.

The Zune was launched in the United States late last year but has yet to make its way to Australia. David McLean, the regional director of Microsoft Australia’s entertainment and devices division, has confirmed the Zune will come to Australia but a specific date has not been revealed.

A Microsoft-backed online store, coupled with the Zune, would help break Apple’s iPod-iTunes market stranglehold. The iTunes Music Store has sold over two billion songs and the iPod owns 75 per cent of the digital music player market.

In a statement distributed at the Windows Vista launch event on January 30, Microsoft said: “The Sanity service will give Australian Windows Vista customers access to more than 1 million tracks to download via Windows Media Player 11 and will offer both subscription and purchase options when it goes live in April 2007.”

Tracks purchased from the store could be played on music players using Microsoft’s digital rights management technology – such as those produced by Toshiba, Samsung, Creative, iRiver and SanDisk – but they would not be compatible with the iPod.

Similarly, songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store can only be played on iPods unless they are manually converted to an open format using third-party software.

But unlike iTunes where users pay per song or album, the Sanity/Microsoft store’s subscription model means you will only be able to play a song as long as your subscription is current.

A pay-per-song model could also be offered, but further details are not yet available and specific pricing has not been announced.

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Will Zune follow iTunes?

April 6, 2007

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Microsoft may be inking a deal with EMI to sell DRM-free digital music, much like iTunes has annouced earlier this week, according to recent rumours.

Zune’s marketing director Jason Reindorp has said “we’ve been saying for a while that we are aware that consumers want to have unprotected content.”

Zune, Microsoft’s answer to the iPod-iTunes digital music solution, has 11% to 12% market share among hard disk-based media players. The problem is that hard drive-based devices only account for a quarter to a third of all media players sold (the rest using flash memory) so Microsoft actually has only a small percentage of a small percentage of the market.

Reindorp admited that droping DRM “does open things up a little bit. It potentially makes the competition more of a device-to-device or service-to-service basis, and will force the various services to really innovate”, which is in Microsoft’s direct interest.

EMI declined to comment on the speculation, though it reiterated that iTunes was just one of a number of digital music stores from which it anticipated selling DRM-free tracks “in the coming weeks”.

An EMI spokesman said: “Negotiations with other platforms, such as Zune, are ongoing.”

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Steve Jobs – Thoughts on Music

February 8, 2007

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With the stunning global success of Apple’s iPod music player and iTunes online music store, some have called for Apple to “open” the digital rights management (DRM) system that Apple uses to protect its music against theft, so that music purchased from iTunes can be played on digital devices purchased from other companies, and protected music purchased from other online music stores can play on iPods. Let’s examine the current situation and how we got here, then look at three possible alternatives for the future.

To begin, it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in “open” licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC. iPod users can and do acquire their music from many sources, including CDs they own. Music on CDs can be easily imported into the freely-downloadable iTunes jukebox software which runs on both Macs and Windows PCs, and is automatically encoded into the open AAC or MP3 formats without any DRM. This music can be played on iPods or any other music players that play these open formats.

The rub comes from the music Apple sells on its online iTunes Store. Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.

Apple was able to negotiate landmark usage rights at the time, which include allowing users to play their DRM protected music on up to 5 computers and on an unlimited number of iPods. Obtaining such rights from the music companies was unprecedented at the time, and even today is unmatched by most other digital music services. However, a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.

To prevent illegal copies, DRM systems must allow only authorized devices to play the protected music. If a copy of a DRM protected song is posted on the Internet, it should not be able to play on a downloader’s computer or portable music device. To achieve this, a DRM system employs secrets. There is no theory of protecting content other than keeping secrets. In other words, even if one uses the most sophisticated cryptographic locks to protect the actual music, one must still “hide” the keys which unlock the music on the user’s computer or portable music player. No one has ever implemented a DRM system that does not depend on such secrets for its operation.

The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game. Apple’s DRM system is called FairPlay. While we have had a few breaches in FairPlay, we have been able to successfully repair them through updating the iTunes store software, the iTunes jukebox software and software in the iPods themselves. So far we have met our commitments to the music companies to protect their music, and we have given users the most liberal usage rights available in the industry for legally downloaded music.

With this background, let’s now explore three different alternatives for the future.

The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music. It is a very competitive market, with major global companies making large investments to develop new music players and online music stores. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all compete with proprietary systems. Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store – they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.

Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.

The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. And Apple might benefit by charging a small licensing fee for its FairPlay DRM. However, when we look a bit deeper, problems begin to emerge. The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players.

An equally serious problem is how to quickly repair the damage caused by such a leak. A successful repair will likely involve enhancing the music store software, the music jukebox software, and the software in the players with new secrets, then transferring this updated software into the tens (or hundreds) of millions of Macs, Windows PCs and players already in use. This must all be done quickly and in a very coordinated way. Such an undertaking is very difficult when just one company controls all of the pieces. It is near impossible if multiple companies control separate pieces of the puzzle, and all of them must quickly act in concert to repair the damage from a leak.

Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries. Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free. For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard. The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company. EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company. Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Sreve Jobs, Feb. 6, 2007

in: Apple.com

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Amazon to Sell DRM-Free MP3s?

December 26, 2006

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Amazon looks set to plough into the digital music market next year.

Right now this is just conjecture but rumor has it the retailer started romancing music labels last week to enter the music download market at the end of the first quarter of 2007. The big news, however, is that it seems interested in selling mp3s without any DRM attached.

As the first major download store launch since Microsoft made it clear with ZUNE that it was not supporting it’s own PlayForSure DRM, perhaps Amazon was left with no choice. Yahoo! Music, Napster, URGE and others based on PlayForSure are starting to look like forgotten step-children. Only eMusic has gained real momentum against the iTunes juggarnaut and eMusic sells mp3s.By embracing mp3s, Amazon completely avoids all player compatibility issues by selling in the only format that plays on all devices including the ubiquitous iPod.

Amazon is already the internet’s number one destination for physical music sales and has now available a service of free mp3 downloads. We’ll just have to wait for further developments to know if this speculation will become official.

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Bill Gates admits flaws in DRM technology

December 18, 2006

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates told a group of technology bloggers that copy protection for digital music is too complex for consumers.

Although Gates is a defender os the idea behind Digital Rights Management (DRM), he admits that it’s not where it should be and that it’s becoming a controversial tool for people who feel it limits what they can do with legally purchased files.

Bill Gates was candid in admitting no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which causes pain to consumers in its effort to distinguish between legal and illegal uses of audio and video files.

These comments are all the more peculiar since DRM is a key technology on Microsoft’s Zune media player and come in the same week online music retailer eMusic announced its 100 millionth digital music download roughly three years after the service launched.

The sales total is well behind the one billion tracks sold by industry leader iTunes over the same time period.

But unlike iTunes, which sells its tracks with DRM technology, eMusic sells tracks in MP3 format without playback restrictions.

“Except for iTunes, the only store that is doing well online with downloads is eMusic, and the reason is because they do sell it without [playback restrictions],” said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media.

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Universal Music may seek royalty deal with iPod

November 29, 2006

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Universal Music Group Chief Executive Doug Morris said on Tuesday he may try to fashion an iPod royalty fee with Apple Computer Inc. in the next round of negotiations in early 2007.

Universal, the world’s largest music company, owned by French media giant Vivendi, was the first major record label to strike an agreement with Microsoft Corp. to receive a fee for every Zune digital media player sold.

“It would be a nice idea. We have a negotiation coming up not too far. I don’t see why we wouldn’t do that… but maybe not in the same way,” he told the Reuters Media Summit, when asked if Universal would negotiate a royalty fee for the iPod that would be similar to Microsoft’s Zune.

“The Zune (deal) was an amazingly interesting exercise, to end up with a piece of technology,” he added.