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  • Where Microsoft and its Cohorts Fear to Tread

    September 29th, 2006

    You’ve probably heard the news, that the Toshiba — or rather Microsoft — Zune player will cost $249.99, within pennies of the current 30GB iPod. Microsoft admits it’s losing money, but is prepared to take a loss in the hope that it will, some day, catch the iPod.

    But the form and features and even pricing of the Zune player aren’t important. Although Microsoft wants us to think that it is willing to risk tons of cash to gain market share, there is one area that is, so far, in the hands-off department, and that’s the Mac.

    Yes indeed, like other music players that use one of Microsoft’s failed DRM schemes, there is no Mac version of Zune. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be on the radar. In fact, Microsoft seems to have been trimming its Mac offerings of late, with the departure of Virtual PC and, more importantly, Windows Media Player. I won’t dwell over the fact that a third party is distributing an add-on for QuickTime to support older Windows Media versions. The encrypted stuff won’t play on a Mac without a Windows virtual machine, such as Parallels Desktop. So much for that.

    Of course, if you ask Microsoft why they killed these products, they’ll give you excuses. Virtual PC would have required a complete retooling to function on an Intel-based Mac. That would be like building a 1.0 product, but the key element of their response is that there are already other solutions to running Windows and Windows software, from Apple, Parallels and so on and so forth.

    In other words, Microsoft just couldn’t compete with smaller companies. Or chose not to.
    Windows Media Player? Well, that’s not developed by the Mac Business Unit, so there’s another division to make excuses, and I haven’t seen any that make sense other than the fact that Mac users just don’t seem to care.

    Of course it’s not just Microsoft that chooses to ignore the Mac from time to time. I saw an announcement the other day about a new media streaming device from Netgear, perhaps designed to steal thunder from Apple’s iTV. Or at least some of the published reports I read about the product made that claim. Except that it won’t run on Macs either.

    Now with Windows occupying over 90% of the personal computer market, I suppose I can agree with industry analyst Ross Rubin, who talked about the matter on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, that these companies would prefer to go after the low-hanging fruit. Besides, Mac users wouldn’t necessarily be tempted, since they’re used to the seamless integration with Apple’s software and hardware.

    Of course, that raises the biggest question of all about these alleged iPod “killers,” and that is why most of these companies have, so far at least, pretty much stayed clear of the Mac market. If their products are so impressive, so compelling, why not go for the gold, or the brass ring?

    When it comes to the hardware, nothing needs to be changed. But they would have to build drivers and software that runs on both the PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. Is that such a hard task, to build a Universal binary version?
    Apparently not, since there are now over 3,500 Universal applications, and the list is growing rapidly, almost every single day. In fact, Microsoft has already made one small move in that direction, with its latest instant messaging software. Oh yes, it doesn’t do audio or video yet, although iChat and even Skype can perform those worthy tasks. To be fair to Microsoft, they say they’re working on it.

    Understand that Apple wasn’t afraid to build Windows versions of its products where it felt it could make a killing. In fact, there are far more Windows users with iPods than Mac users right now. But many of its competitors are clearly afraid to move in the opposite direction.

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