Microsoft struggles with Xbox vs. Windows Media Center positioning

The introduction of Netflix's "Watch Now" service for Windows Media Center is a prime example of Microsoft trying to carve up markets in artificial ways -- and of how the company's positioning of Xbox and Media Center continues to be a source of confusion.

The introduction of Netflix's "Watch Now" service for Windows Media Center is a prime example of Microsoft trying to carve up markets in artificial ways.

The new service -- which works on Vista Media Center Edition only (Microsoft officials won't say if and when it will be part of Windows 7 Media Center) -- seemed like good news when Microsoft announced it earlier this week. But in short order, it became clear that the Netflix Media Center service was crippled intentionally.

The Netflix Media Center service won't work with Microsoft's Media Center Extenders. That means Netflix movies and TV shows can't be streamed to other consumer devices that include built-in Extenders. From Most Valuable Professional Chris Lanier's blog:

"I’ve been testing the Netflix application for a few weeks now. Upon downloading the first beta I read  the release notes which talked about Extender’s not being supported. I figured this was something that would change. Sadly, it didn’t and was planned at all. I didn’t think I’d get to post this part because it was told to me under NDA, but TechFlash actually posted it so I’m in the clear. Part of the reason Extender’s are not supported is because Microsoft wants to make sure they don’t compete with the Xbox 360 Dashboard.

"Leaving the technical aspects of getting Silverlight to an Extender aside, this represents a huge problem and once again confirms to me that Microsoft will continue to push and promote the Xbox 360 Dashboard over that of the Extender platform."

Lanier isn't the only Microsoft tech enthusiast who is upset over the lack of Extender support for Netflix on Media Center. From a blog post by Zoomr CEO Thomas Hawk:

"The great promise of Media Center extender technology was that it would bring anything you could do on a PC to quieter, easier devices connected to your television set in the networked and connected home. By crippling this important technology and restricting it from Media Center extender devices, this is a step backwards. Heck, I’d even pay Microsoft the same $50 a year to have this on my extender than I pay for the lame XBox Live Gold Membership that I’ve got now."

This isn't the first time in recent memory that tech enthusiasts and testers have expressed public displeasure with the directions Microsoft is taking with Media Center. Last summer, testers were up-in-arms over the way Microsoft handled its "Fiji" TV Pack update for Vista Media Center