Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Thank you, Microsoft

There is a theory amongst software companies that the higher the version number of what they're selling is, the better it must be. Microsoft got third time lucky with Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

OK, Windows Mobile is on version 5 and is still pretty beta, but Windows Media Player, which is now on heady version 11, has been a good and stable product for a long time.

It's by a long way the dominant video player for those using the internet and has just about the only workable DRM (digital rights management) module that I've come across.

Microsoft have also spent a lot of time and money trying to come up with high quality, broadcast standard delivery with their VS1 codec, which is capable of supporting HD delivery.

However, from a dominant position, their seemingly unsurpassable position suddenly seems vulnerable.

First of all, there are the endless ruminations of the European Union and the European Courts, who have ordered Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media from its operating systems.

Then, there's the rise of MPEG4, and specifically the H.264 standard, which seems to have grabbed most of the broadcasters and the broadcast equipment manufacturers. At NAB, it apparently became clear that Microsoft were failing to win the top end of the market.

At the other end of the scale, Adobe's Flash product has adopted the excellent On2 codec with its video overlay capability, and is seriously threatening Microsoft at the bottom end of the market for click and play video applications on the website.

Considering that, beyond the licences they charge for their Windows Media Server software, Microsoft make next to no money from Windows Media Player and have reportedly already invested almost a billion dollars in this product area, as well as the fact that it makes distribution easier for everyone and has genuinely has great security features for content owners, Windows Media is still worth backing.

However, the increased competition will probably benefit us users and developers by preventing Microsoft from charging for their players, or even charging licences for content delivery, any time soon.

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