Earlier this week I told you the 10 things you need to know about Microsoft Zune. While that list will get you through small talk at most cocktail parties, there’s one item that merits more discussion — the fact that Zune will not be PlaysForSure Compliant.
Microsoft developed the PlaysForSure certification program in late 2004 as part of a branding campaign designed to promote products and services that were compatible the Microsoft DRM system. It was an attempt to assure consumers that they could buy any compliant player, subscribe to a compliant music service, and have a seamless digital music experience on par with anything produced by Apple.
According to Microsoft’s PlaysForSure website:
If you’re shopping for a portable music or video device and you want to make sure the digital music and video you purchase will play back on it every time, look for the PlaysForSure logo. Match the PlaysForSure logo on a large selection of leading devices and online music stores.
The reality, however, was quite a bit different. The net is filled with frustrated accounts of consumers burdened with devices and services that were never quite as compatible as they were supposed to be. No matter how much money Microsoft threw at this program they could never quite convince consumers that PlaysForSure was better than the iTunes/iPod combo.
So now, Microsoft appears to be doing the unthinkable by copying Apple’s model of tethering a portable player to an online music service and using a closed DRM system to pull it all together. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft makes this all work. Will there be a new Microsoft DRM system, or will they intentionally configure the old DRM to be incompatible with all of those PlaysForSure players on the market?
Any way you look at it Microsoft’s partners have been screwed. While Microsoft says it will continue to support the PlaysForSure program, you have to wonder how many of the participants will continue their involvement now that Microsoft has moved on to what looks to be another standard that will be incompatible with existing products.
And what will become of Urge, Microsoft’s high profile partnership with MTV? Will Microsoft suddenly be in the position of marketing it’s new product line in competition with it’s slightly less new online service?
Microsoft’s new music service will reportedly be similar to iTunes in scope. Microsoft is said to be negotiating terms with labels right now. My guess is the Zune music store (or whatever they eventually call it) will offer both subscription pricing and variable pricing on individual tracks. Microsoft will give the major labels everything Apple has refused to give them. In the process they’ll end up confusing consumers and angering their partners.
If nothing else Microsoft is doing a tremendous service for the anti-DRM movement. I’ve mentioned before that consumers who buy DRM’d music are at the mercy of the companies who manufacture and support the underlying DRM system. There’s no guarantee that any given DRM system will be supported forever. Microsoft’s seeming abandonment of PlaysForSure is a fine example of just how bad things can get.