March 31, 2006
Microsoft and the EU Hearing: Latest Reports
The AP is reporting on the first days of the hearing where Microsoft and the EU commission square off on whether the company is meeting up to the Commission's antitrust order. The Commission has said no, and faces retroactive fines of $2.4 million retroactive to December 15th of last year.
The issue revolves around the technical information Microsoft must make available to allow competitors to connect to its system. Brad Smith, Microsoft's counsel, said he was more optimistic about resolving the issue than he had when he arrived for the hearing. He said he found the dialog constructive and wished it happened sooner. Competitors and the technical referee had called Microsoft's technical manual useless. Microsoft has said the manual met industry standards, although an industry standard is not necessarily a legal standard. Ask any products liability attorney about that one.
In the background is a letter sent by the U.S. government to the Commission over the issues, reportedly noting the relations between Microsoft and the Commission had reached a new low. Well, duh. The content was not released officially, and the Commission noted it as an informal document with no official status. The EU is clearly not looking to the DOJ's approach to Microsoft for guidance.
Next up in the hearings are Microsoft's competitors. Stay tuned.
The AP report via the Washington Post is here.
March 30, 2006
Sony UMD Format Dying?
In a smirky bit of news floating about the web, it seems that the Sony UMD format has failed to gain popularity. These are the DVD alternatives that are tucked way back in the shelves at stores such as Tower Records. Smaller than a DVD, they are only playable on Sony PlayStation Portables. Reports indicate that content providers (movie studios) are disappointed with the format as a sales platform and are considering dropping the format for releases.
Criticisms abound over the lack of compatibility, given that regular DVD releases have full content rather than stripped down offerings to save disc space. Regular DVDs are playable on inexpensive portable DVD players, laptops and desktop machines, as well as the ubiquitous home player. For those past discs, the video iPod offers cheaper albeit not necessarily better portable delivery than the proprietary UMD. Given that UMD discs were priced the same as a regular DVD, the only people who would conceivable want it were people who's only movie watching took place on a PSP. That's got to be a small segment of the population.
Sony executives could write a book called "Suppose They Created A Format And Nobody Cared." There was the Beta video format, although that was a marketing failure more than a technical failure. While VHS had an inferior picture and less recording time at standard play (L-750 at 3 hours v. 120 minutes on a standard VHS tape), VHS was less expensive and good enough for the masses who didn't care about that quality and time issue. Incremental improvements made Beta irrelevant as a market player.
Then there is the MiniDisc. It's till out there with players and even recorders, but it is such a niche market that it is almost invisible. This bit of technology was conceived as an alternative to portable Cds. Create your own portable music mixes and take them anywhere the ads blared. The problem was that burnable CDs also existed and portable CD players were inexpensive (relatively). this format was a non-starter from a commercial standpoint.
Even the recording side had problems. While the recorders could be positioned as convenient field recorders for students, musicians, and others, Sony ladled on so much DRM as to make them unattractive. The only way to take a recording and convert it to another format was to play it back in real time and record from the analog outputs. There are no file transfers even for unprotected content.
The common denominator with dead formats is their proprietary nature. The Walkman was a big hit because everybody owned cassettes before the Walkman was created. It played a format the public had already embraced. Somewhere in the Sony vaults is probably a plan for the Sony-only cassette. Luckily something like that never surfaced.
And now there is the next generation high definition DVD from Sony called Blu-Ray with players and media to come out sometime this year. The timetables seem to be slipping for one reason or another. The last delay was from failure to finalize copy protection schemes. At the same time, the competitor HD Disc from Toshiba et al. has had its own delays. The players were expected to appear in April, but somehow there wouldn't be any HD Disc media to play until May. Oops. There's also the question of whether there is enough critical mass of high definition television sets out there to see fast adoption of either format.
Most analysts agree that the market won't support two incompatible formats. If history is any guide, the format that is cheaper and "good enough" for the average consumer is likely to win out. So, Sony execs, if you're listening, what's good for the consumer will be good for the company, not the other way around.
March 29, 2006
Apple Update Limits iPod Volume
Apple has released software that limits the volume on an iPod. While this is not in direct response to a lawsuit filed against the company earlier by a man who claims that the warnings about hearing loss are not adequate, the prospect of hearing loss with prolonged use of any loud noise is real. The software caps the volume at 100 db. Parents can also set the volume and lock it with a code. The models affected are the Nano and video models.
March 27, 2006
Apple is Suing Apple
Apple Corps, the management company for the Beatles, is suing Apple Computer over online music distribution. This marks the third time that these two have found themselves in court over trade and trademark issues. The first clash took place in 1980 over trade name confusion. The two companies settled. Apple agreed to stay out of the music business and Apple Corp agreed to stay out of the computer business. Beatles music has never been available for legal download. The second suit occurred in 1989 over music editing capabilities on the Macintosh platform. That also ended in a settlement that forbade Apple (the computer company) from distributing music on physical media.
The third suit involves the Apple's music download service as a violation of the distribution terms in the 1989 agreement. At that time of the agreement, no one on either side had anticipated commercial music distribution over a network, let alone a piece of the action. The case begins Wednesday before Mr. Justice Mann in the High Court. Reports indicate he owns an iPod although neither side has asked for his disqualification.