Good Microsoft, Bad Microsoft

Good Microsoft, Bad Microsoft

Summary: On paper and in theory, Microsoft is a single corporation, with something like 80,000 employees worldwide. In the real world, it's actually a collection of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small companies that appear to act without a lot of central supervision. That is the only possible explanation for how the same company could do something totally amazing (introducing Live Mesh) on the same day as it does something completely boneheaded (pulling the rug out from under its MSN Music customers).

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On paper and in theory, Microsoft is a single corporation, with something like 80,000 employees worldwide. In the real world, it's actually a collection of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small companies that appear to act without a lot of central supervision.

That is the only possible explanation for how the same company could do something totally amazing on the same day that it makes headlines with a ridiculously boneheaded move.

Good Microsoft unveiled Live Mesh today. A kind Microsoft employee hooked me up with an invite to the beta program, and I have it running here on my main desktop PC and my notebook. After spending only a couple hours using it, I'm in awe of its performance and usability in allowing me to move between local files and cloud-based storage without even being aware of it. I'm really forcing myself to temper some of that initial enthusiasm so that I can learn how this stuff works and get a sense of where the platform is headed. But I can't help but feel excited about some of the ways this technology can change the way I work.

Unfortunately, Bad Microsoft decided to make an appearance this week as well, if this report from Ars Technica is accurate:

MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett sent out an e-mail this afternoon to customers, advising them to make any and all authorizations or deauthorizations before August 31. "As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers," reads the e-mail seen by Ars. "You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play."

How many tracks did Microsoft sell through this service? Apple has sold 4 billion tracks at 99 cents each. MSN Music probably had 1 percent of ITMS' market share, maybe less. At that rate we're talking probably 40 million tracks, almost certainly not hundreds of millions. So why not make a gesture in the direction of those customers, one that doesn't involve the middle finger? Why not publish instructions on how to burn those downloaded DRM-laden tracks to CD, where they would be safe from deactivation servers? And then why not offer some compensation to those who made purchases at the MSN Music store? How much goodwill and good news coverage could the company buy for 10 or 20 million dollars? Even at Microsoft that's more than chump change, but it's a bargain compared to the amount of ill will they managed to generate in one day by offering nothing. Nada. Zero, zip, zilch.

And that bottom line doesn't count the number of prospective Microsoft customers who are lost before they ever spend a dollar. Ray Ozzie's memo on mesh computing talks about the “power of choice” and “connected entertainment”:

[E]ach individual will be afforded a media-centric or gaming-centric web presence through which they can express their tastes/interests/affinities and interact with others through linking, sharing, ranking and tagging of music, video, photos, games, and more. This vision is being realized today through the Zune Social for media and Xbox LIVE for gaming. Services such as the MSN.com home page, MSN Mobile, MSN Video, Zune Marketplace and software such as Windows Mobile, Microsoft Mediaroom and Windows Media Center will be progressively transformed by this connected entertainment vision.

What a great opportunity Good Microsoft had today. They could have contacted their MSN Music customers, who have already proven they're interested in this “connected entertainment” stuff that Ozzie is writing about, and offered them early entree into the Live Mesh service. They could have rewarded those customers for their past loyalty by offering them something of value. But instead of inviting those customers onto the bus, they pushed them under it. Way to go, Bad Microsoft.

Over the past year, I've seen encouraging signs of a Microsoft that is capable of learning from its mistakes and enforcing accountability. It's a shame the folks at Bad Microsoft keep creating so many opportunities for the folks at Good Microsoft to learn so many painful lessons.

Topics: Windows, CXO, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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89 comments
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  • MS is Straddling The Fence

    MS appears to be straddling the fence in the area of DRM. It appears the company doesn't want to tick off big content owners, so it does what big content tells it to do. So when big content says MS should screw over its customers, MS just says fine, and does it. I wish MS had shown some backbone and at least pushed like Apple that its DRM allow users to burn their tracks to CDs without any DRM - more or less like Apple's. The root of the problem of course is big content which insists on continuing to sue its customers, and avoid adapting to the way consumers want to consume content.

    I still say that it's in MS' and the computer and consumer electronics industries' best interest, to set up an entertainment platform which specifically caters to the long tail of the entertainment industy, but which extends all the way up big performers and big productions. This will help democratize the entertainment industry, dramatically reduce piracy, and undermine big content's propensity to go after its customers using DRM, political lobbying, ligitation, and other means. Also, there is a huge amount of money to be made in this process. I believe the entertainment industry is like the computer industry back in the early 80s. It has lumbering giants who are unresponsive to its customers, who simply dictate to their patrons, how they should accept and use their wares. If the entertainment industry gets democratized like the computer industry with the PC, I think the company which does this will make a whole lot of money.
    P. Douglas
    • Confused over CD burning

      "I wish MS had shown some backbone and at least pushed like Apple that its DRM allow users to burn their tracks to CDs without any DRM"

      As far as I know, PlaysForSure tracks could always be burned to a CD with no DRM, which could in turn be played in any consumer CD player.
      Ed Bott
      • Oops!

        If that is the case, burning their tracks to CD and ripping them back to their PCs appears to be a solution. It may not be a convenient solution, but it is a solution. Maybe they can burn their tracks to DVDs to save on labor. If they can, things don't appear to be so bad.
        P. Douglas
        • They can...

          ...I have a few tracks I purchased from MSN waaaaay back in the day. The first thing I do is burn them to CD as I have a weird, uncontrollable habit of re-installing different OS's to my main machine(s) on a scary basis. :)

          I'm still not sure, though, that everyone knows that you can burn nearly any purchased song, regardless of source (MSN, iTunes, Napster) to a CD. This immediately removes the headache of DRM and allows you to do with that track what you want.
          GuyAlanDye
        • CD burning

          You can do that (PC to CD back to PC), but you lose a lot of the sound quality. Kind of a bummer.
          Norcross
          • Quality loss

            Not certain how much is lost from wma to cda. But using a lossless codec (not mp3, obviously), can preserve the quality. The wma "mathematically" lossless setting is actually good.

            Slightly relevantly, I would prefer that mp3 web downloads be at 320 instead of the 256 I often see.
            Anton Philidor
          • You're missing the point

            The original downloads are in lossy WMA format with DRM. They have to be burned to CD in CDA format to have the DRM removed. Converting to CDA is not a lossy operation, except for the glitches inevitable with the conversion process. After the tracks are on an audio CD you can then rip them using any format you want. However, using a lossless format will simply waste space, because it cannot restore the information that was missing from the original lossy file in the first place. The ideal solution is to rip them back using the same bit rate as the original downloads.
            Ed Bott
          • Overkill

            [i]Slightly relevantly, I would prefer that mp3 web downloads be at 320 instead of the 256 I often see.[/i]

            320kbps amounts to overkill Anton. 224~256k VBR is actually ideal, as it saves precious real estate without any noticeable (audible) sound degradation. The missing artifacts caused by the higher compression fall outside the human hearing range. Though many like to claim otherwise, blind studies tend to prove otherwise, right down to the sonic graph level.

            Once you push lower than roughly 192k, it becomes a bit more apparent, especially to those with superior hearing, or when using high end, high wattage equipment. However even at 192, many mp3's sound quite nice and acceptable. Even 160's aren't too bad. 128k is where you truly hit the "iPod Special" level, those rinky tink devices the kids think of as "audio equipment" today. lol <ding dong>

            The key thing remains this: if you want superior or ultimate sounding music rips/files, then why turn to a lossy format like MP3 or OGG anyways? You should be using these formats strictly because they compress nicely to save valuable disc/storage space (admittedly more important years back than today), and because they've become pretty much ubiquitous at this point in the file sharing realm, MP3 topping all in popularity by far. Thus it remains the best "all-around compromise" solution when it comes to digital ripping.

            If one is not willing to compress a bit to achieve such ends, then you would be wisest to stick with lossless audio compression like APE or FLAC or WP, or even uncompressed WAV and go hog wild. Bigger files, truer sound. Simple as that, and far less of a "compromise" solution than the artifact-eliminating, file crunching mp3 approach.

            Suffice to say I'd be willing to bet Ed Bott's next Sony Vaio that if we blind tested you on a head-to-head 256 versus 320 comparison - all other factors being equal mind you - you would not be able to tell the difference between the two. Period. And that means of course I'd get the Vaio... uh, once Ed cleans it up + tweaks it just right (would be nice to have someone else tackle this teeth-grinding chore for once). ;)
            klumper
          • Lossy OGG?

            "[...]a lossy format like MP3 or OGG[...]"

            Umm, first off, ogg is a container--Vorbis, FLAC, mp3, Speex, etc. are audio compression formats(See http://www.vorbis.com/faq/#what ). The compression format within the container can be lossless or lossy(see Vorbis and FLAC). As mentioned in the faq, it is not recommended to convert from one lossy format to another(eg: mp3 to ogg vorbis), otherwise nothing wrong with using either(ie: if lossy, stick with what you've got).

            Aside from these points, I see no faults in your argument.
            Nobu_z
          • C'mon dude ...

            [i]Umm, first off, ogg is a container-- Vorbis, FLAC, mp3, Speex, etc. are audio compression formats(See http://www.vorbis.com/faq/#what ). The compression format within the container can be lossless or lossy(see Vorbis and FLAC).[/i]

            Well I appreciate your input, and without getting into splitting hairs over semantics and little more, what I stated remains accurate AFAIC. OGG is part of the lossy audio codec/file format family. FLAC is part of the lossless audio codec/file format family. A "container" is simply an aka for "container format", which equates to any computer file format that can be compressed or manipulated by means of audio or video codecs.

            As for what I wrote earlier, I was referencing "OGG" as the file format/extension for OGG Vorbis audio, just as it is commonly referred to by audio bangers everywhere. Likewise I chose "MP3" in place of MPEG Audio Layer 3. So yes, this was without breaking down OGG in all its glorious variants (which would have been superfluous in the context of what I was explaining). If you'll recall, I was talking about different [i]audio file formats,[/i] thus OGG = Ogg Vorbis by default.

            Beyond that, I never stated that certain ones couldn't be used in cross category or "hybrid" modes. WavPack [WP] for example is a high quality, open source, lossless audio compression format that can also create lossy files [WV/WVC].

            So to reiterate:

            Lossless audio format (uncompressed) = near exact copy in information/music of the original source
            Example: WAV = Wave (Microsoft/IBM) [the original lossless audio format]

            Lossless audio format (compressed) = near exact copy in information/music of the original source
            Example: FLAC = Free Lossless Audio Codec (open source)
            Example: APE = Monkey's Audio (open source)

            Lossy audio format (compressed) = crunched and different, but close enough copy of the original source
            Example: MP3 = MPEG Audio Layer 3 (Fraunhofer/AT&T-Bell)
            Example: OGG = OGG Vorbis (open source)

            And yes, because lossless audio files are exact (or near exact) copies of the original source, you can use various processing software to turn lossless files into smaller, compressed, lossy copies. Conversely, you cannot successfully create lossless extracts from lossy originals.

            [i]Aside from these points, I see no faults in your argument.[/i]

            Are you sure ... or not trying hard enough? ;)
            klumper
          • Let's talk quality

            Compression sucks the soul out of any music. CDs were a just cheap replacement for vinyl.

            Just ask anyone who has a "true" high fidelity stereo.

            It may be great for headphones or a vehicle, but at 125 dB, anything but a cda sounds terrible.

            Maybe the problem is that there are so few of us left that know how vinyl at 125 dB+ sounds.

            Digital was the "day the music died".
            soundsalive@...
        • You don't have to "re-rip" them

          Burn them to a CD-R as mp3 files, then copy and paste them from the CD-R back to whatever folder you want to save it in. You shouldn't have to go through mp3 compression a second time.
          hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • You can't do that

            The purchased tracks are in WMA format using PlaysForSure DRM. The only way to burn them is using Windows Media Player, and that only supports burning to a CD in CD Audio format.
            Ed Bott
          • Thanks for the correction, Ed

            My bad.

            ;)
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • May not actually need to "Burn" the CDs

            Although fortunately not faced with this situation, I am was aware of a Microsoft utility to mount cd images (google "windows mount cd image").

            So, I thought perhaps in conjunction with some virtual cd burner, you might be able to re-rip without dealing with physical CDs. For the industrious, this would likely let them script the process for their entire collection.

            Sure enough, when I googled "windows virtual cd burner" I found that not only are there several, the first one listed is expressly marketed for the purpose of the subject at hand!
            usonia
      • Yep

        I can confirm that this is the case. If you burn the music to a CD as an audio CD (not a data CD) then the files are 'transformed' into regular CD audio. These songs can then be ripped just like any other CD.

        To save yourself a load of CDs (and time), use Nero (or similar) to burn the CD to an image file (.nrg, .iso, ..) then mount it using Daemon Tools (..etc) to rip it in Media Player (or Apple PieTunes, whatever).
        CreepinJesus
    • "democratized like the computer industry"

      As in vote for me, Bill Clinton. Vote for my wife, Hilary Clinton.

      Superb.
      fr0thy2
    • This is just another clear example of who MS thinks their customer is...

      ...and it's not the end-user. It's the media companies.

      It's also just another example of why I will never accept DRM schemes that sooner or later will leave one out in the cold.
      JohnMcGrew@...
  • RE: Good Microsoft, Bad Microsoft

    I always knew they were various small companies. Just look at how they package software. I've seen WinZIP, WinRAR, Installshield plus all their inhouse installers. :-)
    Gis Bun
  • Hello, Earth to Ed: There is no Good Microsoft there.

    When are you going to wake up to the, by now more than
    obvious fact, that MSFT is simply bad?

    It is a rapacious, lazy, stupid organization led by Ballmeriab fiils
    that has OD'ed on its monopoly for decades, produces mostly
    (nothing but?) junk like Xbox (has yours burned up today?),
    Vista (does your printer still print; have you been nagged to
    death again today?) Zune (is there really anyone who owns to
    brown turd?) WinMobile (no iPhone killer there...) SPoT (don't
    need an MSFT wristwatch? wonder why...).

    This is an organization that is simply incapable of producing
    competitive, easy to use, functional products because it has
    become habituated toward "throw it out and they'll HAVE to use
    it" mentality. It is in the essence of monopolies that they
    eventually produce only junk because they can produce only
    junk. MSFT has long passed the time (if ever) when it produced
    competitive products. Hello, Ed. There is a reason why users
    are abandoning Vista in droves: it is the monopolistic detritus
    or an uncoordinated and stupid management.

    Everything is geared toward protecting the fortress monopolies:
    Win & Office.

    All Live Mesh is, is another attempt to milk the Office
    monopoly for a few more years by locking in the customer
    further into the monopoly web.

    Good Microsoft? What MSFT was ever capable of doing was
    crushing smaller competitors by unfair monopolist practices.

    Apart from that, it has no competitive capability: the emperor
    has never had any clothes.

    When attempting to compete against someone else on a level
    playing field (e.g., search vs. Google) it is and will be an abject
    failure, a useless gaggle of uncoordinated fools attempting,
    unsuccessfully, to make something significant. The need for
    competition is not in the MSFT DNA.

    Can you say Zune, Xbox, WinMobile and the late unlamented
    Playsforsure.

    Hello, Earth to Ed: There is no Good Microsoft there. Never
    has been; never will be. Give it up.
    Jeremy W