Who'd like to open up FairPlay? Norwegians would.

A lot of blah-de-blog about Norway declaring Apple's DRM illegal, most sourcing this OUT-LAW.COM (WHY THE ALLCAPS GUYS?) post:

Apple's digital rights management lock on its iPod device and iTunes software is illegal, the Consumer Ombudsman in Norway has ruled. The blow follows the news that consumer groups in Germany and France are joining Norway's action against Apple.

The Norwegian Consumer Council, Forbrukerradet, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman on behalf of Norwegian consumers claiming that the Fairplay DRM system acted against the interests of consumers. It said that the fact that the technology stopped songs bought from iTunes being played on any player other than an iPod broke the law in Norway.

The Ombudsman has now agreed, according to Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor at the Consumer Council.

This snippet from a Tuesday AP story adds another detail about the Norwegian situation (which sounds a lot like a really bad spy/thriller/novel/movie starring Matt Damon):

Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon said Norway gave Apple until September to change its polices, or face possible legal action and fines in the country.

“It cannot be good for the music industry for them to lock music into one system,” he said.

A Financial Times article seems more definitive:

The ombudsman has set a deadline of October 1 for the Apple to make its codes available to other technology companies so that it abides by Norwegian law. If it fails to do so, it will be taken to court, fined and eventually closed down.

Nine months before “possible legal action” seems slightly less urgent than “Apple DRM is illegal in Norway,” so this already sounds like less of a story than it might otherwise be; Apple has plenty of time to press their case with the Norwegian authorities. Large commercial interests seem to have good success with convincing governments of merits of their point of view.

Let's assume that Apple doesn't simply pull the iTunes Store out of the Norwegian market, and that it licenses FairPlay to other vendors (and, I assume, other DRM schemes are opened up on similar terms) globally. How much better off are we as customers?

Obviously we'd gain some interoperability. I happen to think this is a non-issue in the digital music market, since the big systems (iPod-iTunes-iTunes Store vs Windows Media PlaysForSure vs Zune-Zune Marketplace) all offer roughly identical catalogs. More importantly, all players support the unrestricted music formats you get from ripping CDs or by other means. 

Yes, if you eventually wish to move from one system to another, you'd have to forsake your investments in restricted content, but that's often true in technology. Moving from Mac to Windows or Linux, or from Quark to InDesign means leaving some of your bits behind. At best, the tools your moving from give you some way to export in a format supported by the tools you're moving to. Of course, you may lose some bells and whistles (formatting, macros, metadata, whatver), but that's lock-in we've lived with for years. Some companies even make a living out of reverse-engineering and converting incompatible file formats.

A far better (and less command-economy-style) solution would be to let people reverse-engineer DRM so we could preserve our investments in content. I can't cite the specific law in Norway, but I'm sure that, like the DMCA did in the US, that solution illegal.

Source: Apple DRM is illegal in Norway, says Ombudsman | OUT-LAW.COM




As I mentioned in a recent post (ostensibly about Netflix' on-demand video service, but really about the digital living room):

If there's one hard lesson that TiVo has taught us, it's that the cable company (and, more often now, the phone company) doesn't like giving ground to others in the living room; not when it comes to watching TV, anyway. TiVo does the most creditable job, but, generally, third parties have a hard time going toe-to-toe with the cable companies when it comes to set-top devices.

Well, today I caught this item in Reuters' MediaFile blog:

TiVo HD BoxYankee Group analyst Joshua Martin says the standalone DVR product category will cease to exist by 2010, “and its dissolution will result in the end of TiVo as we know it.”

Why? Many reasons, Martin says, but it is the so-easy-a-caveman-can-understand-it arithmetic that dooms the pioneering DVR maker:

Cable and satellite providers: BIG. Tivo: small.

Behind the marketshare numbers (18MM DVRs in 2006, less than 2MM were from TiVo) lies the fact that people will accept “good enough at a lower cost” over “better but for a premium.”

TiVo's products and services are, by all accounts, superior to those you get through your CableCo DVR. My Time Warner DVR comes from Scientific Atlanta (now a Cisco company), with software from Aptiv (nee Pioneer Digital). The box is ugly, the software is only tolerably usable now (previous generations have performed like pigs), and the thing seems to need a cold reboot every month (how stupid is it that you have to reboot your TV?), but it also costs nothing up front, and costs less per month than TiVo does.

Time Warner was even able to beat TiVo at its own game on a couple of fronts: I didn't need an external cable box to take advantage of digital cable goodies like on-demand free and premium programming. It was also ahead of TiVo in offering dual-tuners, so you could record two shows simultaneously. Those two come courtesy of Time Warner's integratio of cable services with the DVR hardware.

Between bundling, billing, and distribution, TiVo (and anyone else trying to slide a box under the TV) faces some formidable gatekeepers in the cable companies.

Source: Yankee Group to TiVo: buh-bye… – Reuters Blogs

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The "Microsoft Tried to Doctor Wikipedia" Story

I'll write more on it later (and so will many others), but for now, let me point you to the big story of the day: the Australian paper The Agereported that Microsoft offered to pay Rick Jelliffe, CTO of the Sydney-based company Topologi to edit Wikipedia articles on the new Office XML format, the often-derided Open Office XML.


Doing the 1080p

Someone should show this to Scoble, who pronounced AppleTV “dead on arrival” a couple of weeks ago since it only does 720p and not 1080p:

Doing The 1080p


Tainted Vista Review #3: Overnotification

The Tainted Vista Review

I don't mind that Vista's probably more aware of the machine on which it runs than any of the previous versions of Windows. My complaint is that the UI team decided that it must notify me of every last thing going on, no matter how insignificant. For instance, a little notification that says “Information: A jack has been plugged in” appears when I plug my headphones into the headphone jack:

Windows Vista message -- 'Information: A jack has been plugged in.'

I knew that, buddy. After all, I plugged it in.

To be consistent, the UI team made sure that there was a message appears when you decide to unplug your headphones: the “Information: A jack has been unplougged” notice…

Windows Vista message -- 'Information: A jack has been unplugged.'

I've only done some cursory Googling, but I can't seem to find any written design rationale behind such a notification. I thought that someone decided that since plugging devices into the FireWire or USB ports usually causes a notification to appear, they should be consistent and have a message appear for devices plugged. However, plugging and unplugging USB devices for which drivers are already installed doesn't cause a little notification window to appear; Vista simply plays a single pizzicato string note when you plug them in and two pizzicato string notes when you unplug them.

It may be some kind of security measure. Maybe it's meant to warn you in cases where the machine is out of line-of-sight of the keyboard, mouse and display (wireless keyboard and mouse, really long VGA cable?). In such a setup, you'd probably want to know if someone's jacked into your machine, trying to listen to or record whatever sounds or tunes are playing. It could be the basis for an RIAA-scripted horror movie: “Get out quickly! The pirate's in your house!”

Whatever the reason for this feature's inclusion, it makes it seems as if Vista's trying too hard to impress you.


Tainted Vista Review #2: Vista Can't See the Bluetooth Mouse

The Tainted Vista Review.

I've been tied up with all sorts of work and personal stuff, so I haven't had enough time to take the Ferrari laptop for a proper spin until the past couple of days. So at long last, I can start reporting on my experiences with it.

The Acer Ferrari is one nicely tricked-out machine. It comes with all sorts of accessories, from little protective sleeves and pouches for the laptop and all its peripherals to a built-in camera at the top of the screen to a couple of nice Bluetooth goodies: a Bluetooth phone mini-handset and a Bluetooth mouse. I've been meaning to get around to trying some VOIP telephony, but that's not an immediate need. However, as someone who prefers using a mouse to a trackpad, I figured I'd start with it.

The mouse is a little bit smaller than I like — it doesn't fit as nicely in my hand as the Logitech MX's — but it's covered with something like black neoprene which makes it easy to grip. The mouse wheel, whose wide design suggests a radial tire, has a satisfying feel. Matte black with red trim, it's a good-looking mouse. I think it might look better without the garish Ferrari logo.

I fired up the Bluetooth Wizard in Vista, pressed the activation button at the bottom of the mouse and saw it light up, clicked the button on the Wizard to detect the mouse and got this dialog box seconds later:

Bluetooth wizard in Windows Vista: 'Windows cannot find any Bluetooth devices'.

Clicking the “Search Again” button — once, twice, three times — did no good. The mouse was a total stranger to the computer it had been bundled with.

On a lark, I decided to try it on the PowerBook. I fired up the Bluetooth Setup Assistant and got this immediately:

Bluetooth setup assistant in OS X: 'Acer Bluetooth Wireless Mouse'.

That's right: Acer Bluetooth Wireless Mouse. Not only did the Mac recognize that there was a Bluetooth mouse in range, but it ID'd its make and model.

Don't forget: Vista is a next-gen OS, while Mac OS 10.4 “Tiger” is almost two years old. And I'd bet good money that its predecessor, “Panther” would've picked up the mouse too.

In the meantime, Vista's still unaware that there's a mouse in the room. This is like one of Apple's “I'm a Mac / I'm a PC” ads, de-anthropomorphized.

Acer Ferrari 1000 with mouse saying 'Hey! Vista! Over here! Yo! Yoo hoo!'.


Netflix opens up tiny parasol to protect it from the anvil plummeting towards its head

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Netflix, a company whose fortunes reside entirely in the living rooms of America, decided to get in on this online movie thing. Their entry to the market is an on-demand streaming feature that will be rolled out to Netflix subscribers over the next six months. Users will have to work within a total viewing time-limit based on their subscription plan, so a subscriber paying $5.99 a month will get six hours of on-demand video, while the people on the $17.99/mo plan will enjoy 18 hours of online movie time.

The time-capped viewing approach, the fact that this is streaming-only (no time-shifting), and PC-only leaves me thinking that this announcement is no big deal. Netflix has some time yet, but it's actually quite hard to see how they, or any other independent digital video store, hitch a ride on the online digital video train. The device manufacturers and network companies (telcos and cable companies) are in much better positions to control this market.


People invest a decent amount of money on in-home entertainment stuff: TVs, home theater audio systems, DVD players, and the services required to make use of it all. The TV, for better or worse, is the focus of home entertainment. Netflix probably knows this better than anyone. Unfortunately, their service doesn't get them into the living room; a huge problem for them. To get from the net-connected PC to the TV, you need hardware (and home networking). Obviously the first company that springs to mind is Apple with their Apple TV product, but, with the Xbox 360, Windows Home Server, the largest-selling OS in the world, and other assets, I'd say Microsoft has a pretty fair shot here, too.

What's more, Apple and Microsoft can offer more than just movies and TV shows from the net with their digital home solutions. They can put your ever-growing library of personal media at your disposal throughout the house: your pictures and home movies. And, of course, there's the music thing. As compelling as devices from Sling Media are, they lack the tight integration with the big OS/OS+box vendors' personal media suites.

I know, that barely sounded like English.

Telcos and cable companies

I bring up these guys because neither Apple nor Microsoft have real answers to the question of integrating TV over cable into their media hubs. If there's one hard lesson that TiVo has taught us, it's that the cable company (and, more often now, the phone company) doesn't like giving ground to others in the living room; not when it comes to watching TV, anyway. TiVo does the most creditable job, but, generally, third parties have a hard time going toe-to-toe with the cable companies when it comes to set-top devices. Obviously, the cable companies have little incentive to play nice and open their systems to all comers, since their bundling of services and set-top hardware allows them to charge a premium price. As a consequence, solutions to allow third-parties to tap cable networks, like CableCard, are pretty unsatisfying in practice. If the cable company has that direct line to your living room TV, they're going to fight the idea sharing it.

On the other hand, they cable and phone companies don't have control over the desktops and laptops in people's homes. Since many of us ar building extensive personal libraries of files, photos, music, and movies, bridging that gap is important. Personal computers also happen to be the hub of choice for connecting or synching your digital information with other devices, like iPods and smartphones. So, while there's no question the cable and telephone companies occupy some strategic ground in the digital home, they're far from delivering us a true solution all by themselves.

Whither Netflix?

A lot of companies have some real upside in the emergence of the digital living room. Netflix, unfortunately, isn't one of them. Their current business exploits weaknesses in the old Blockbuster et al business model, and lives in an ever shrinking gap between the bandwidth of DVD+the USPS and broadband ISPs. It's further sustained by the genuine fear among movie and TV studios of an all-digital world but, as services like the iTunes Store and Xbox Live Marketplace expand their video catalog, that's slowly being eroded as well.

The conditions that allow Netflix's core business exist are slowly disappearing. It makes sense for them to move into the gaps early themselves, but their lack of any real strategic stronghold (either of their own making, or through partnerships) in the digital living room leaves them extremely vulnerable. On the one hand, this looks like a feeble response from Netflix, on the other hand, I'm not sure what else they could do.