« September 3, 2006 - September 9, 2006 | Main | September 17, 2006 - September 23, 2006 »

September 14, 2006

Microsoft Give Out Zune Details

Microsoft is giving out some specifics about the Zune player and companion  Zune music service that it intends to use in competition with Apple's iPod and iTunes store.  We've known, for example, that Toshiba will manufacture the device for Microsoft.  Zune looks a lot like the Toshiba Gigabeat player according to pictures that have appeared so far.  We've also known that Zune will have WiFi capabilities that allow users to share music.

New details confirm the WiFi and how it will work in practice.  Users will be able to share songs with other Zune users, although these songs can only be shared once.  They will be playable three times or within three days of the share.  After that, the user of the receiving Zune will be prompted to buy the song, and if not, it will disappear from the player.  Another restriction will be a limit of one connection at a time.  The device can store and play videos and photos.  The latter can be shared on an unlimited basis while the former will not be shareable under current plans.   

WiFi can apparently be turned off as Microsoft gave a 12 hour battery life figure when WiFi isn't on.  There were no reports on how long the battery would last with WiFi on.  Ask any laptop user of WiFi and the answer should be significantly less.

Microsoft seems to be trying everything to appeal to users.  The market model they use combines what's currently out there.  Users can subscribe to unlimited tracks per month and/or buy tracks which will not expire.  There were no details about whether users will be able to buy tracks directly from the ether without a computer as previously rumored or if Zune will natively support support other file formats beyond WMA.  See  this artice in PC Magazine for nofmration on how Zune can "import" other formats.  No pricing is available at present.  If the music labels have their way it should be variable.  As Microsoft wants their DRM to be ubiquitous, they will likely roll over and let the labels set the prices.  Music, thus, becomes less an art form and more a commodity.  Oh well.

Comments from Microsoft representatives indicate that the company is in this game for the long haul.  They don't expect to capture large portions of market share from Apple overnight, or even in the first six months.  They are clearly betting on WiFi to distinguish themselves from Apple.  It remains to be seen whether this is enough to overcome Apple's cool factor.  Microsoft has certainly tried to up the cool factor on Zune with the way they leaked details.  Pundits have gone into this but one wonders if the general public cares.  Will we see Vista bundled with Zune music buying software?  Something like that may be their ace in the hole, although the Justice Department didn't care much for that strategy when it came to Explorer.  The Europeans may be even less inclined to allow that leverage.

A long time ago Microsoft announced the birth of the NT operating system.  It's sales were sluggish and Novell dominated the network market with Netware.  NT is now essentially XP and more or less Vista, and Windows Server 2000 on up.  History may repeat itself.  On the other hand, with the release of the initial Star Wars trilogy, we are reminded that the Empire did ultimately lose.  Zune may be NT or it may be the Death Star. 

Stories are in Billboard, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, and ABC News.

September 14, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

Apple Movie Download Now Official

The company announced today that Apple will join the movie download ranks.  It also announced new iPods with screens that are 60% brighter along with other updated configurations.  Costs will be $12.99 at pre-release and $14.99 thereafter.  Older films will be priced at $9.99, keeping in line with pre-announcement rumors.  The first films available will be Disney properties. 

Apple also announced a $299 box that will interface computers to televisions allowing people to view their downloads on their televisions.  The box is compatible with Apple and Windows computers.

Details are in the San Francisco Chronicle, BetaNews, MacWorld, and PC Magazine via ABC News.

September 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vista Release Candidate 1 Download Now Available

Microsoft released the RC-1 candidate of Vista to beta testers who signed up in June, as well as MSDN members and others.  The RC-1 page is here, and the download page is here.  The software will expire on June 1, 2007, later than the original beta copies distributed earlier.  RC-1 also requires testers of Office 2007 to download a new version of the Office beta.  Microsoft is charging $1.50 a pop for the download.  Information is on the RC-1 download page.

September 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Amazon Opens Video Store - Will Apple Follow and then Lead?

The convergence of television and the personal computer is the holy grail of most in the computer business.  Microsoft especially lusts after this as a way of extending the Windows franchise into the living room and another reason for people to keep blindly using the operating system.  While we're at it, let's include telephone service as well.  That's sort of been accomplished with voice-over-IP, and even video services through instant messaging.  These services, however, are still computer based and not casually in the living room. 

There have been creaky steps towards convergence.  The digital lifestyle requires a really fast Internet connection.  There are varying grades of fast, and commercial Internet providers offer acceptable enough speeds, if tolerating a 4 plus hour download of a 2 hour movie is acceptable.  That could never take place in the world of dial-up.  But we're still not there when considering that low-res dvds are in the seven gigabyte range and high res movies are starting out on discs holding between 25 and fifty gigabytes.  No one is going to wait a day or so downloading a high res version of Charlie's Angels when Wal-Mart carries them for around $22. 

That's not the only challenge.  It seems that Hollywood can't quite understand that consumers like to watch movies on television rather than a computer.  There are all kinds of restrictions on nascent download services in terms of portability.  The key, of course, is connecting that television conveniently to a computer.  That's hardly easy with present equipment.  Maybe with high def monitors, although these are still in a price range that is out of reach for the family who can buy $300 commodity PCs and $200 27 inch analog televisions.  There are plenty more consumers in that category than the early adopters.

It is in this context that we look at the two latest developments in online video sales.  Amazon has created a software "unbox" application that allows customers to download movies from the company's video store and play them on a computer.  The TV experience comes along if consumers can connect the computer to the television.  Audio would come through the computer speakers.  DVD burning is forbidden, as is playing nominally compatible media from other outlets.  Amazon is looking at a business model similar to Apple in that it ties the consumer into a complete experience.  Unlike Apple, however, all of the convenience seems to be with Amazon and Hollywood and not with the consumer.  This is especially true when the downloads cost are similar to discs and offer less.  The only attraction is some material such as television shows may be before release on disc.  Still, where is the motivation for consumers to care about this?

The second development is still in the rumor stage, but close enough to fruition to discuss.  Apple is planning to make a special announcement at the end of the week.  Many think it will be the details of a video store, a new iPod to go along, and maybe another model of the Mac mini that could make that transition to a living room Internet device that easily connects to a television.  Oh, and a potential download price of $9.99 could be part of the mix.  Apple is good at giving the consumer value for their online media purchases in spite of vendors trying to squeeze every dollar out of a digital version of a movie.  Apple has the right approach if the rumors are true.  The viewing experience on a four inch screen is not worth $19 to $29 dollars for a download, but might be at the $9.99 price.  Apple has the good sense to assess the market as it is, not as vendors would like it to be.  And they will likely be there long after high def televisions penetrate most homes and broadband is about ten times faster than it is at present.  Online stores in the model of Amazon will struggle until then.

Stories on the Amazon project are in ITWire, Playfuls, the Seattle Times, and the Washington Post.  As for Apple, let's just wait

and see what Steve Jobs announces in San Francisco this Friday.

September 11, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack