This week we announced the immediate availability of the latest Windows
Media audio and video technology for Linspire. It's an important first
for Linux, since it means desktop Linux users can now watch the latest
video news at Fox News and CNET, movie trailers on Yahoo!, and sample songs
from sites like BMG Music
with native, licensed and supported technology. The support spans
Windows Media 8 and Windows Media 9, for both audio
video. It even allows for in-line web browser playback, which is how many
sites now operate (where the video is played within a portion of a web
page rather than a separate program). Linspire users can use CNR
(click and run) to one-click update their computers to receive this functionality.
As excited as we are to be able to debut native Linux support for
Windows Media 8 and 9,
there is a darker side to the story. A story that began for me five years ago, back at MP3.com.
In those days Real Audio was
the king. MP3 was
unknown and the dark horse. Microsoft was launching Windows Media and
heavy favorite to dethrone Real and take over the digital music
business. Over the years, Microsoft has persistently tried to convince
entertainment and technology companies to use Windows Media.
Most have been extremely wary of using Microsoft technology for fear
that Microsoft would monopolize the digital music and movie industries as
done with the PC software business. These companies have feared that
start with reasonable pricing, then raise
the rates once they've secured a monopoly or even worse, not license to certain companies at all.
Microsoft has made steady progress getting music services to
standardize around Windows Media by spending hundreds of millions of
dollars and leveraging their operating system monopoly. I vividly remember a
conversation I had five years ago at a Windows Media launch party at the House of
Blues with Will Poole, then head of Windows Media (now head of the
entire Windows division) for Microsoft. He was scolding me because, as
CEO of MP3.com,
I was refusing to support Windows Media. Mr. Poole was insistent to me
and to the press that Microsoft would not discriminate who they
licensed to. You can watch video of him from that time period, touting "our open approach to broadly
license our technology across a full range of industry partners," and
"anytime on any device." I expressed my
concerns that even though Microsoft's public position was that they
would not discriminate
and license everyone at the same price, that given their business track
record, it would be foolish for me to believe them.
Now fast forward to a few months ago when I was speaking with Microsoft
about a Windows Media license for Linspire for the next three years. They
agreed to license parts of Windows Media technology, but withheld
portions required for Linspire to work with popular music services. I was told they do not license
"general computing platforms." As I predicted, Microsoft is
who they will license their technology to. And their new policy
effectively locks Linux users out of most commercial music services like
Napster, Musicmatch and RealRhapsody.
Future movie services that use Windows Media will be inaccessible
as well. This is a worrisome trajectory,
since computers are increasingly being used as audio and video devices, and
perhaps why the European Union is rightfully looking into antitrust
swirling around Windows Media.
The ultimate solution is to embrace open standards - formats that
aren't controlled by one company who can selectively price or license
them. I have been
pleasantly surprised at Real Networks' renewed investment with their
Helix project and Real Player 10, which they are releasing for Linux. (We
hope to have them at the upcoming Desktop Linux Summit.) I
spoke with a Real representative about their plans for licensing Linux.
They said, "We don't have an operating system agenda." Consequently,
they have no reservations about licensing for Linux or any other operating
system. And of course there's always MP3. I think there are a few more
chapters to be written in the battle for
control of digital media. You can expect something from Linspire in the near future that
pushes the industry in the right direction...stay tuned.
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