The Imperfect Vision

Microsoft Fiddles While Market Burns

Francis Vale

In the July/August 2001 issue of The Perfect Vision a magazine for high-end A/V buffs, Nicholas Bedworth wrote a piece entitled, "XP Rules!". Bedworth ends this joyful ode to Bill Gates and his new XP OS with the ebullient statement,"Everyone is happy, especially consumers, who are the big winners here in terms of choice, convenience, and cost."

Oy vey! Bedworth is clearly clueless. He makes his totally ridiculous remarks without regard to such nasty MS XP issues as:

1. If you install XP on your PC, and you then buy/upgrade to a new PC, the XP license, which you have bought and paid for (and which you must register within 30 days of installation or you will be illegally using the OS), is not legally-- or even physically-- transferable to your new PC. The OS is locked down onto the original hardware configuration. You are thus stuck with your old PC or you must buy a new XP license. How is this anti-consumer tactic by MS convenient?

2. As reported in various places (e.g., BBC on-line), inside XP is a system called Secure Audio Path, which ties tracks to the music-playing hardware on your PC. This software adds noise to music tracks that is removed only when the track is played through a trusted sound card. Eventually SAP could be used as a content management system by Microsoft that will let it make people pay to listen to music. Ironically, in another recent issue, The Perfect Vision made a big noisy deal out of the Copy Generation Management System (CGMS, which is five year old news, BTW) and how it gives digital satellite broadcast TV operators (and others) the ability to arbitrarily change picture quality up or down. So how does The Perfect Vision, a publication devoted to promoting the best in sound, feel about noisemakers being deliberately put in the audio path of your PC music files? And how does this XP "feature" benefit the consumer in terms of convenience and choice, and not too mention at a likely cost in audio quality?

3. In mid-April, the Wall Street Journal reported that XP will limit the quality of MP3 files it creates. Typically anyone creating MP3s chooses how good or bad they sound depending on what they want to do with them. This choice may now be gone with XP as Microsoft wants to push its own proprietary Windows Media Player technology for audio record and playback. As it finally turned out, Microsoft dumped MP3 altogether and decided to pass its support off to 3rd party developers. MP3, an incredibly vital part of the digital multimedia experience, is now a second class citizen in Redmond's closed world of XP. How does this MS tactic benefit the consumer in terms of convenience and choice?

4. What about Real Audio (RA) and its Windows Media Player-competitive Digital Rights Management technology (DRM)? RA's DRM system has the backing of Adobe, AOL, radio and TV conglomerate Clear Channel, EMI, IBM, MGM, Napster, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment and Sun Micro, among others. If Mr. Bedworth had been tracking the DRM industry debate, he would have known that the RA DRM system has been in the works for many months. How does having a monopolistic XP-DRM system benefit the consumer in terms of competitive choice and quality?

5. Microsoft has announced that there will be no native XP support for Java. To run Java apps, a user must independently go find, install and setup a Java VM on his or her XP system. Instead of Java, Microsoft is pushing its own .Net and C# programming language. Java may not have lived up to all the hype, but it is increasingly an integral component of enterprise systems, consumer electronics, and the Web. How does Microsoft's arrogant denial of Java benefit users in terms of choice and convenience?

6. A Federal Appeals Court ruled in June 2001 that Microsoft, although off the breakup hook (for the moment, anyway), was still found guilty of antitrust behavior that harmed the consumer. "Microsoft may have ducked the murder-one conviction and the death penalty, but they sure look like they've been hit with a murder two," said Rich Gray, a Silicon Valley antitrust attorney. "They have been found by the full panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals to have illegally maintained their monopoly in violation of the Sherman Act. That's devastating." The antitrust swords are already being rattled again by several states Attorney Generals over XP and its flagrant desire to wipe out any competitive systems, like Real Audio and others. But apparently, Bedworth knows more than the Federal courts, states, and other legal minds, because The Perfect Vision asserts that, "consumers... are the big winners here in terms of choice, convenience, and cost."

There is a strange contradiction at work in The Perfect Vision. On the one hand, the magazine prides itself on critical thinking and analysis in its reviews of both gear and content. Yet when it comes to computer-related issues, such critical thinking seems to go right out the door. But in the general consumer media, should this come as any real surprise? The Perfect Vision also tries to do product gear reviews in such a way as to allow its readers to make informed judgments about what to buy. However, to follow Bedworth's logic to its natural conclusion, there is no need for such comparative computer technology reviews/analyses as there is only one good OS choice for consumers, MS XP.

The PC market is generally in the tank these days. At the June 2001 PC Expo in New York, there was really nothing new to rave about. PC makers have their collective fingers crossed that when XP rolls out the new OS will cause a surge in system sales. And so that's what it has all come down to: What's good for Microsoft is good for the economy.

The PC industry is thus locked in a mad death dance with the Redmond software giant. Intel and others are so afraid of rocking the PC boat that they have lost sight of the fact that what truly spurs new systems sales is consumer excitement and interest in new, must have, ground breaking products. Instead, all the innovation must come by decree from Bill Gates, otherwise, it's not innovation; to which the MS-myopic Perfect Vision wholeheartedly agrees, per Mister Bedworth.

Time for an eye exam, TPV.

Francis Vale, Copyright 2001, All Rights Reserved


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