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  • Windows Vista and Zune: Microsoft Blows it Again!

    October 10th, 2006

    To use an old phrase, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not bashing Microsoft. I am, instead, talking about mistakes that may come to haunt the company as its newest products near release.

    First there is Vista, and its lame security interface. Under Mac OS X, when you start your computer, you can set things up to deliver a login window, or use the default, which does it all behind the scenes. For the most part, when you run an application installer, you will be stopped with a password prompt, and you won’t be able to continue the operation without entering the correct administrator password.

    Under the standard setup for Vista, there’s a password prompt at login, and an utterly irritating number of prompts when performing certain actions, such as opening a particular setup Control Panel and, of course, when installing an application. But there’s no password prompt. In an office setting, this means that, once you’ve started your session, you better log off or invoke a password-protected screensaver whenever you have to make a bathroom visit or leave your desk for any other reason. You see, while you’re gone, someone could download and install a malicious application behind your back. This may not seem likely, but consider an unexpected visitor to your office, or just a fellow employee who has it in for you, and wants to mess up your computer.

    Didn’t Microsoft think of these possibilities when it built Vista? As of RC2, which is said to be the final prerelease version before it is released for manufacturing and distribution, little has changed, except for fewer annoying dialogs. I don’t see much changing when the product becomes available as a retail product, since there isn’t time to overhaul the security interface.

    Now about that alleged iPod killer, or at least the latest pretender, known as Zune: On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I talked with Computerworld’s Mike Elgan, a former editor of Windows magazine, about the reasons he feels Apple ought to fear the arrival of Microsoft’s forthcoming music player.

    I didn’t buy his full argument, although it’s clear that Apple needs to be aware of any potential competitor, particularly one as ruthless and rich as Microsoft. Even if the product is sheer garbage, Microsoft clearly plans to expand perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to tout the Zune, the Zune Marketplace, and the new community it hopes to establish around the device.

    However, I found some of Mike’s arguments to lack substance and perhaps logic. In one case, he appears to have made a critical error, which is about the way the Zune’s wireless technology scheme will operate. You see, when you beam a song to a fellow user, that user can play the song only three times, over the next three days, whichever comes first.

    Mike said that this horrendous DRM restriction would apply strictly to songs you acquired from the Zune Marketplace, but that doesn’t appear to be true.

    According to a post at the Medialoper blog, entitled “Microsoft Insider Clarifies Zune’s Sharing Limitations”:

    I misspoke (mis-blogged) on last week’s post. We don’t actually “wrap all songs up in DRM:” Zune to Zune Sharing doesn’t change the DRM on a song, and it doesn’t impose DRM restrictions on any files that are unprotected. If you have a song – say that you got “free and clear” – Zune to Zune Sharing won’t apply any DRM to that song. The 3-day/3-play limitation is built into the device, and it only applies on the Zune device: when you receive a song in your Inbox, the file remains unchanged. After 3 plays or 3 days, you can no longer play the song; however, you can still see a listing of the songs with the associated metadata.

    In his Oscar turn as the title character in the movie “Forest Gump,” Tom Hanks said: “Stupid is as stupid does.” Just consider the consequences. A mother beams a song ripped from a CD to her son. The song wasn’t acquired from any online source, legal or otherwise. It’s a copy for a family member, and yet it is governed by the same silly restriction.

    Worse, the disabled song is apparently not automatically deleted when it becomes unplayable, but sits there until it’s removed, thus cluttering up your player’s hard drive. Now I suppose the process of docking and downloading songs from your PC might remove such data. Or maybe not.

    Did Microsoft’s product people actually take into account how users are going to be affected by its onerous DRM scheme? Is this going to encourage people to download music legally? Is this going to discourage people from developing hacks to disable the Zune DRM?

    The answer to both questions is no, and the best thing you can do, when given the opportunity to buy such a misbegotten device, is just say no.

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