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Microsoft planning to break iTunes “lock-in”

Engadget has this little interesting snippet on Microsoft’s plans to launch a portable music player:

But it gets better. To attract current iPod users Microsoft is going to let you download for free any songs you’ve already bought from the iTunes Music Store. They’ll actually scan iTunes for purchased tracks and then automatically add those to your account. Microsoft will still have to pay the rights-holders for the songs, but they believe it’ll be worth it to acquire converts to their new player.

I’ve banged on for a long time about the lock-in between iPod and iTMS, and this seems like a good way to break it – although an expensive one for Microsoft. Even assuming that David Card’s research is correct and most people have 20 or less iTMS songs on their iPod, that could still work out at around $10 per iPod convert. And of course, it raises the question of whether this will act as a disincentive to buy from Microsoft’s own service (or it’s partners). Why buy from them when you can buy from iTunes, and get the same song on both platforms? Or will the scan be a "one-time-only" thing?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • leisla

    i need one program to music free

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Right. So transferring from AAC you can play on five computers and several iPods to WMA you can play on an unknown number of computers and Microsoft players is a way to defeat “lock-in.”

    Right.

    At some point I’m hoping, apparently in vain, that Windows apologists who decry Apple “lock-in” would look at their own computers, and, additionally, finally acknowledge that there are, in fact, many ways to copy legally-acquired music onto an iPod that don’t involve the iTunes Music Store.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    By the way, the use of an inaccessible CAPTCHA, which is ineffective at stopping blog spam but is great at keeping blind people out, was a nice touch.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Yes, Joe, strangely something that lets you transfer from one service to another IS defeating a lock in. I’m sorry that doesn’t fit in with your “Apple can do no wrong” worldview, but there you go.

    And isn’t it three computers these days? I seem to remember that Apple changed the license terms – even for music you’d previously bought under different terms.

    As for the CAPTCHA, since I implemented it I’ve had no comment spam at all. So much for your “ineffective”.

  • Matt Chaput

    Geez, Ian, defensive much? Your title is about “iTunes lock-in,” but iTunes (the music player) doesn’t have lock-in (I can take my MP3s wherever I want) — the store does. And you can still get your music out, however tortuously. The poster might have been more polite about it, but he has a point. Your ad-hominem attack (unless you have some reason outside this post to believe he thinks Apple can do no wrong) is unfortunate.

    By the way, it’s 5 computers and unlimited iPods.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    While iTunes the player doesn’t have a lock-in, iTunes Music Store certainly does – and I think it’s pretty clear what I’m referring to.

    As for the ad-hom attack… if you come here with ad-hom attacks (who are these “Windows apologists who decry Apple ‘lock-in'”? Me, I assume) you won’t get much sympathy from me.

    Because, of course, he’s ignoring the point: the lock-in isn’t on the iPod side (I can copy whatever I want to an iPod… except Ogg, or FLAC, or WMA…) but on the iTunes side. While most users at the moment have only a handful of iTunes-bought content, that isn’t going to be true for a significant proportion of users for long.

    And the “you can do it by burning CDs” argument is weak. Yes, if you have five or ten albums from iTunes Music Store this is an option. But if you have a hundred, or two hundred, the investment in time is too great for all but the most determined user. At that point, Apple has you by the nuts – you’ll keep buying an iPod, because you have to to play your music.

  • James Bailey

    I doubt that Microsoft will be able to do what the engadget rumor suggests. The reason is pretty simple. It is already well understood how to remove Fairplay DRM from at least some iTMS files. That knowledge can be easily reversed to add Fairplay DRM to any AAC file. Up until now, no one would want to do something like that but if Microsoft really tried to allow downloads of any iTMS purchased files, then there is a pretty good reason to implement it.

    I don’t think that there is a technical solution to prevent that. Hashes on the real files won’t work for example. Even if Microsoft downloaded every file on iTMS to get the hash, they would have to decrypt both their file and my file to get the hash. That is a pretty clear violation of the DMCA in the US.

    If they do the recognition based on just the filename extension or based on a more sophisticated heuristic without decrypting the file, then I can share my complete Fairplay collection with everyone and they can share theirs with me. This might even be legal as long as no one tries to circumvent the encryption. Now, as long as you can find someone with the track, you can get the file for free from Microsoft.

    There are many other technical problems with the proposal but those are enough and should convince you that this proposal is not likely to be real.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Good points, James. I suspect that MS would be willing to take the risk of people sharing their collections in order to make a break into this market – it’s that important for them. Yes, it would cost them a few hundred million more, but in the long-term scheme of things, that might be a price worth paying.

    One option pops into mind – and I haven’t tested this – but won’t QuickTime play authorised FairPlay-protected songs? If so, all MS’ software would need to do would be to attempt to play a song via QT and see if it returned an error.

  • HG

    Converting songs to MP3 isn’t good enough for you?

    What about Windows lock-in with Office? Or Xbox lock-in? When are people going to complain so vociferously about these monopolistic locked-in products of Microsoft’s.

    You’re only putting up the iTunes/iPod lock-in boogey man because it isn’t controlled by Microsoft. You’ll trick us by trying to convince us that Zune is saving us from lock-in. What a joke. Zune will lock you into yet another Microsoft monopoly. Who in their right mind wants that? Microsoft employees and investors, that’s who.

    Thank god for alternatives to Microsoft. Thank god for Apple.

  • http://www.ianbetteridge.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    You can’t directly convert a protected AAC to MP3. You can, of course, burn a FairPlay-protected file to CD, but you lose quality every time you convert. And, as I said above, while that’s fine for one CD, try doing it with 50.

    Windows lock-in with Office? I create and read Word and Excel documents with OpenOffice and NeoOffice perfectly well. Xbox lock-in? I have no idea what you’re talking about. Microsoft simply follows the same business model as all the console makers – the “give away the razor, profit on the blades” model. I don’t think Apple makes a loss on each iPod, do you?

    Personally, I don’t want lock ins from *anyone*, as I’ve said repeatedly. The fact that you’re happy to be locked in by Apple just shows how blinkered you are.

  • HG

    “Windows lock-in with Office? I create and read Word and Excel documents with OpenOffice and NeoOffice perfectly well.”

    I don’t think people are going to OpenOffice in droves. You’re trying to convince me that using OpenOffice and dealing with its potential feature mismatches and conversion hassles is easier than burning a CD from iTunes? That’s funny.

    “Xbox lock-in? I have no idea what you’re talking about. Microsoft simply follows the same business model as all the console makers – the “give away the razor, profit on the blades” model. I don’t think Apple makes a loss on each iPod, do you?”

    Business models are created by the dominant forces in the field. In music downloads it’s Apple. BUT, Apple lock-in is a myth. Unlike Windows on PCs, Apple doesn’t lock anyone one in. You can use Paladium or PlaysForSure or Zune (or whatever Microsoft flavor of the month you happen to like). Or you can go totally un-DRM and buy MP3s online or rip CDs. So what’s the problem?

    “Personally, I don’t want lock ins from *anyone*, as I’ve said repeatedly. The fact that you’re happy to be locked in by Apple just shows how blinkered you are.”

    Agreed. Then we should all take Bill Gates’ statement for its idealistic interpretation (which I doubt he intended) and buy CDs and rip them. Or better yet, buy MP3 files from on-line companies.

    By the way, I’m not as blinkered as you think I am. I just don’t get as excited at Microsoft announcements as you do. They go counter to some of the open source defenses that you’ve made.

  • http://www.ianbetteridge.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    “I don’t think people are going to OpenOffice in droves”

    Which is, of course, irrelevant – the option is there, whether people choose to do it or not. Or, use Pages. Or WordPerfect. Or one of the dozens of other applications that ready and write Office files. Which applications can you play a Fairplay-protect AAC on again?

    “They go counter to some of the open source defenses that you’ve made.”

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. If Microsoft, or any other company, releases a legitimate way to give me more choice, that’s a good thing. More choice = good. Why are you arguing that it isn’t?

  • HG

    Ian writes: “Which is, of course, irrelevant – the option is there”

    I was making my point in the context of statements that it’s too much to ask of iTunes users to rip CDs. That somehow this is considered a hinderance to iTunes user’s ability to share music. In the context you’re currently using, I would say that the option to rip CDs in iTunes is much simpler than an office worker converting a Word file into OpenOffice. My point that there are not droves means that I’ll wager it’s simpler to burn a CD in iTunes than it is to convert Word files between OpenOffice and Word. Bear in mind that in most cases the conversion is being done by someone other than the creator of the file (otherwise why convert?). This is never as simple as people make it out to be.

    Also, the complaint that iTunes locks anyone in at all is moot on the grounds that no one is forced to buy anything from iTunes. This, as I said previously, is a marked contrast to buyers who have no choice of operating systems when they buy a PC. (And I mean the lay-user, not the Linux hacker, ok. Let’s be consistent in demographics. It’s this lay-user group which is closer in demographic to the majority of music loving people using iTunes today.)

    It seems there are a group of people on the internet patronizingly concerned about Apple users. My point is, live and let live. I really don’t care that my music isn’t compatible with Zune, or Zen or anyone elses system. It just needs it to work in our home, our car, and our work places.

    For those rare occassions where I want to share something with someone other than a family member, I’ll make a CD or convert my stuff to MP3 and share it using iTunes’ Bonjour. It isn’t as hard as these internet nannys would have us believe.

  • http://www.ianbetteridge.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    “I was making my point in the context of statements that it’s too much to ask of iTunes users to rip CDs.”

    I currently have 412 songs bought from iTMS, roughly 45 CD’s worth. I leave it to you to work our how it would take to burn those to CD, then re-rip them.

    “I would say that the option to rip CDs in iTunes is much simpler than an office worker converting a Word file into OpenOffice.”

    You don’t have to convert – that’s the point. You just open, edit, save. There is a difference between conversion and interoperability, and it’s a difference that you’re simply fudging. The point about the purported Microsoft offer (now, of course, not true) was that you were getting something for nothing. Your AACs were still there – you were just getting something else, for nothing. Why you find this notion so offensive, I have no idea.

    Neither do I have any idea why you’re complaining about Zune locking you when – of course – it too can play MP3s (and yes, you can burn protected WMA to CD too). Either you believe that Apple is not locking you in and so neither is Microsoft or you believe that both are. Which is it?

    “Also, the complaint that iTunes locks anyone in at all is moot on the grounds that no one is forced to buy anything from iTunes”

    And no one is forced to buy Windows. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s this thing called a Mac… it’s rather good. I’m typing this on one right now.

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