Microsoft Zune Incompatible with Microsoft PlaysForSure Media

Microsoft has done some stupid things in the past, and we’ve taken our pot shots at their PlaysForSure initiative. Microsoft is a big, easy target. But now they’ve taken the next step and created an MP3 player that’s not compatible with their own PlaysForSure standard or DRM protected WMA and WMV files (see Microsoft’s Zune Won’t Play Protected Windows Media).

Remember, this is the company that opposes Apple’s FairPlay DRM because it’s incompatible with their standard. And now it’s doing the same thing.

Microsoft Plays for SureI can just imagine the backlash, because people who have players with Microsoft’s PlaysForSure logo will simply assume that Microsoft’s Zune is going to support Microsoft’s PlaysForSure DRM.

Just imagine the customer service counter at Best Buy, Walmart, and a thousand other stores when people who’ve just spent nearly US$300 for Microsoft’s “iPod killer” discover that it’s not only incompatible with Apple’s DRM but with Microsoft’s as well.

Microsoft ZuneZune buyers who already own iPods or PlaysForSure hardware will be in a far worse situation than iPod owners were five years ago. The iPod could play standard MP3s, and you could rip your own AAC files from your CDs.

Then came the iTunes Music Store, where iPod owners and iTunes users could purchase FairPlay-protected music that could only be played on iPods and computers equipped with iTunes.

In 2006, there are already two established DRM standards that have been carving out their own markets. Apple’s FairPlay is the king of the mountain with 70-80% of the market, and PlaysForSure runs a distant second.

Shooting it’s PlaysForSure partners in the foot, Microsoft has created a third incompatible DRM standard. Its target audience: People who haven’t already gone iPod or PlaysForSure. What is that, maybe 5% of the market?

Worse yet, buying a Zune locks you in to a single MP3 player. No tiny shuffle or nano for jogging. Just a full-sized device that really does seem to have a nicer screen than the video iPod.

In short, Microsoft is trying to create the same kind of closed system – their own player, software, and media service – that Apple has with the iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Store. And not only is it incompatible with the industry leading Apple system, it’s also incompatible with Microsoft’s own “slightly less closed” PlaysForSure system.

Microsoft just doesn’t get it. They’re hoping consumers are clueless and ready to abandon their current hardware and media, and it’s just not going to happen.

Two proverbs come to mind:

  1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  2. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Microsoft will discover that imitating Apple isn’t easy (ask anyone who uses both OS X and Windows), and everyone will be scratching their heads wondering why Microsoft decided to go its own way when PlaysForSure couldn’t overwhelm the iPod/iTunes system.

Like I said, Microsoft has done some pretty stupid things in the past – and this one will go near the top of the list.

Further Reading

The Zune was a flop. At its highest market share, iPods outsold it better then 12:1. On March 15, 2011, Microsoft announced it would discontinue Zunes, and it phased out its Zune services on September 15, 2012 in favor of Xbox and Windows Phone services.

Keywords: #zune #playsforsure

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