No Windows 8 DVD playback will mean increased costs, and consumer confusion

While Apple has a streamlined one-size-fits-all OS X edition that contains everything users needs, Microsoft is once again juggling features in order to make one edition of Windows more superior and desirable than another.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

ZDNet's Ed Bott reports that DVD playback has been cut from its upcoming operating system as Microsoft tries to give consumers a reason to buy the more expensive Windows 8 Pro edition.

Windows 8 users who want out-of-the-box DVD playback capability will not only have to purchase the higher-priced Pro edition, but also the optional Media Center Pack. This is bad news for consumers because it means increased costs, more confusion, and the potential for more 'crapware' to be installed on new PCs.

Currently, Windows Media Player handles DVD playback. With Windows 8, Microsoft is removing this functionality from Windows Media Player and shifting it into the optional Media Center component.

This represents a big change in how Windows works, given that Windows Media Player has had DVD playback support since version 6.1, the version that shipped with Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Microsoft has yet to explain how it intends to inform consumers of the removal of this feature. I expect that the first most people will know of this is when they try to play a DVD and are informed that they need to buy the upgrade.

Note that third-party software, both commercial and freeware, will be able to add DVD playback functionality to all Windows editions. The changes outlined here only affect the functionality built into the Windows operating system.

Microsoft says that the Media Center Pack will be available at "marginal costs". However, in order to have the option to buy this feature, users will have to be running the higher-priced Pro edition, or upgrade to this edition. Currently, the difference in price between Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 stands at around $100. I would expect the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro to be similar given that the difference in features between the two editions is broadly the same.

That's a hefty tax on consumers who want to be able to play DVDs.

I agree that the decision to cut this feature is driven by the need to reduce costs. Decoders cost money for Microsoft to license. By reducing the codecs included as part of Windows, Microsoft is able to pass on the savings to the OEMs. Even a dollar or two saved per PC adds up for the OEMs as it is multiplied across millions of PCs sold.

However, because PC buyers expect to be able to play DVDs on their PC -- something that Windows users have been able to do for many years -- OEMs will be under pressure to include some level of DVD playback functionality on new PCs.

This gives the OEMs a potential revenue stream. While OEMs could bundle a free media player such as VLC Player on new PCs, what's more likely to happen is that they're going to cut deals with commercial DVD playback software makers to install cut-down versions of the software on pre-made systems. This software will be crippled or limited in some way, and a license will be required to lift the limitation and make full use of the software.

OEMs already install cut-down versions of commercial DVD and Blu-ray playback software such as CyberLink's PowerDVD or InterVideo's WinDVD onto some systems.

I think that it is admirable that Microsoft is actively looking for ways to shave the cost of Windows 8, but I feel that removing key functionality such as DVD playback from Media Player is a step too far and seems like a desperate attempt to up-sell the more expensive edition. I can see no other valid reason for removing this feature.

While Microsoft has simplified the Windows 8 editions on offer, it will create additional confusion by removing functionality that people expect, and making it an optional extra that they'll have to pay for.

I feel that Microsoft is making a big mistake here. While Apple has a streamlined one-size-fits-all OS X edition that contains everything users needs, Microsoft is once again juggling features in order to make the higher-priced edition of Windows more superior and desirable than the cheaper option, while at the same time giving OEMs yet more reason to install third-party crapware onto new systems.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Microsoft.


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