I’ve been a professional programmer for over 20 years. I first started out using Televideo CP/M based machines, with varying 5 and a quarter inch floppy disk configurations. The highest spec machine had a 5 megabyte hard disk. From that, the company I was working for migrated to IBM compatible PC’s running DOS and then GEM, the long forgotten GUI alternative to Windows. It was when I left that company in about 1988, that got my first glimpse of Windows in 1987 when the company I moved to was using Windows/286 2.1. From that point on, I’ve pretty much used every single version of Windows.
For me, there have been 2 major releases of Windows and I’m just talking about desktop variants here. Windows 3.0 in 1990 took Windows to a whole new level and finally Windows was usable by the masses. I’ll skip over Windows 95, as it was basically what Windows 3.0 should have been. Similarly I’m choosing Windows 2000 over Windows XP as for me, XP basically just added a prettier interface. Sure all my machines now use XP, but that’s down to the fact, it’s the OS that came with my machines.
So now Windows Vista is with us and I feel it’s just another catch up release. For me I see no compelling reason whatsoever, to hand over my hard earned cash to purchase an upgrade. Yes the user interface can look absolutely gorgeous, if you have a hugely expensive graphics card with enough memory to support it, otherwise you are basically looking at a new skin. Yes there are lots of new security features that protect inexperienced users from malicious software and online users from attacking your machine, but for me, these are very invasive and I’m just going to end up suppressing them.
Yes I’m vastly simplifying what you get with Vista, but I just see no killer reason to upgrade, especially if you have hardware and peripherals that are a couple of years old, some of these may not be compatible. Windows XP may be nearly 6 years old, but it’s a very capable operating system. Yes it has it’s flaws, but most of these are known and there are lots of third party applications and utilities to address these flaws. So for me Windows XP will be the OS of choice. Sure I’ll move up to Windows Vista eventually when I purchase new computers, but even that may not be a forgone conclusion. I already have a Mac Mini and may just purchase a full blown Mac as my main desktop machine. There’s also a few variants of Linux that may just be replacing Windows on a few machine around here soon.
It’s seems I’m not the only one hanging back on Vista. Sales have apparently been disappointing. Vista has taken over 6 years to come to fruition. I just hope they have something in the pipeline and are able to get it to the market much sooner, otherwise it just may be too late, if it isn’t already.
Now I could be barking up the wrong tree here, but I had a bit of an epiphany, could the recent furore regarding DRM have been cleverly masterminded. I know, conspiracy theories abound for many things, but this idea maybe bears careful consideration.
I spoke recently about Steve Jobs open letter on the subject of DRM, in which Jobs basically says now’s the time to sell music with no DRM. This admittedly has been brewing for years, capturing public attention and then subsiding again. However to me it has only reached the current peak since Microsoft launched their digital audio player. The Zune you’ll remember has an innovative feature, that allows users to beam songs between Zune players. This sounds great in principle, until you find that you have only 3 chances to listen to the music or three days which ever comes first. This in itself is a real pain, but where the complaints start, are that this happens even for MP3 music you legally own and is originally free of DRM and indeed podcasts, the vast majority of which have a Creative Commons license, allowing their supposed free use and distribution. So in effect the Zune is breaking this license by adding it’s own DRM.
Now my theory is, what if Microsoft introduced this feature, knowing full well that the general public and indeed tech community were going to be up in arms over it. The device itself is a very capable, stacks up nicely to the iPod, so why introduce a draconian feature unless you have an ulterior motive.
So if this is true, what does Microsoft get out of it. As of December, Microsoft had a modest 10% of the digital audio player market. It’s online music shop, the Market Place probably has an even smaller market share. It’s always going to be a pail competitor to the Apples mighty iPod and iTunes, unless the playing field is leveled and DRM is no longer an issue. Bill Gates himself said recently that “DRM causes too much pain for legitimate buyers“, so why not only enforce it, but enforce it to an almost puritanical level, unless you have an ulterior motive.
So assuming all this is true, surly Steve Jobs would be wise to this. Well maybe he is. As I discussed in a previous article, both Apples iPod and iTunes have near market saturation. They are a Goliath fish in a tiny pond. If DRM was removed from all music, they would become a giant in a vast ocean. Microsoft would also become a much larger player and the competition and rivalry would be taken to a whole new level, so a win, win for both companies. It would also be a win for the consumer, who would suddenly have free choice of where to buy music for their digital audio devices and the safe knowledge that their music can be played anywhere without restriction.
We’ll probably never know if this has been Microsoft’s strategy all along, but it surely makes for a compelling argument.
Steve Jobs has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons with his recent open letter “Thoughts on Music“. There’s been many conflicting opinions as to what Jobs is up to, but no matter what, it’s certainly a shrewd time for him to consider casting the iTunes web further. iTunes has a reported 82% of the digital download market, the vast majority of those protected by DRM. Yes it’s quite possible to eek a few extra percentage points, but for how much longer?
Looking to the future, there’s a whole lot of other ways to purchase your music online. Jobs knows this. After all, iTunes is not about selling music, it’s about selling iPods. With such a saturation level in DRM’d music, it’s only natural to begin looking at other avenues. There’s other pressures as well, such as the recent rulings in Norway and the fracas in France. This will either eventually lead to the fall of DRM, or Apple will look to dip their fingers in other pies. Yes you can already buy some select music in unprotected MP3 format, but they’re few and far between.
Ted Wallingford paints a picture of iTunes gone indie, with IndyTunes in his blog posting. A interesting idea and something that may not be all that unreasonable. Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com and now better know for MP3Tunes.com and the Linspire (formerly Lindows) operating system, covers similar ground in his recent blog posting. He gives his ideas for iTunes, which include divesting some of the family jewels. Whilst I can’t see Apple going that far, I can see them beginning to place more emphasis on unrestricted MP3 downloads, whether they are established acts or independent artists. With EMI currently mulling the offering of their entire catalog without DRM, it’s certain that the first company to do this, will pretty much blaze the path for others to follow. Then the whole music scene will become virtually unrecognizable from the one we have today.
Jobs certainly looks to be wanting to shed the DRM shackles, so this may be the shape of things to come. No matter what, 2007 looks to be an interesting year for music.
Published in the February 2007 Issue (#13) Podcast User Magazine (Download)
Happy New Year to all our readers. 2006 was certainly a doozy of a year for podcasting and vidcasting. Indications so far are that 2007 is going to be even more exciting. Apple in particular started the year with some amazing news. The new iPhone was finally announced, with availability some time in June, pending FCC approval. Yes it’s a phone, but more interesting are the other capabilities and cool features Apple has bestowed on it. Certainly a nice device for listening to podcasts. Apple also announced their Apple TV, formerly know as iTV. This is a really interesting device allowing you to stream music and video from your PC to the Apple TV box and from there play directly on your television. It also has a 40 gigabyte hard disk that allows you to store a good few hours of video. I’m kinda of undecided on this device. I personally use a Mac Mini as my media station, which works very nicely and allows me access to music and video via iTunes and also video via the Democracy player, which is an open source video aggregator available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
So aside from Apple, there’s also a hive of activity elsewhere. One of the projects that’s gaining lots of media exposure is The Venice Project, or Joost as it’s now called, after they dropped their work in progress name. This is a really neat, video on demand system, which is still in beta and available at present only via invitation. Early indications are very favorable, but content is still a little patchy. Joost are looking to provide a more user friendly immersive experience, like you’d get from the digital box via your TV.
Castblaster, the podcast creation environment now has a Pro version in the pipeline, which gives may more slots for sound effects and music. Other than that I have no further details, but you can be sure it’s going to be good, especially with Mike Versteeg, the man behind the Winpodder podcast player behind it. Mike is also working on a vidcast version of CastBlaster, which you can bet is going to be very interesting.
The previously mentioned Democracy aggregator, is also due for a new version, This is a beautiful looking piece of software, even on the PC. For the nerds out there, it suffers a bit speed wise by being based on Python, which is an interpreted language, but being cross platform more than makes up for this.
While there was an influx of new podcasts last year, including my own Indie Launchpad, many of these fell by the wayside, after 30 or 40 shows. It takes a lot of work to produce a show that’s of a consistently high quality and it can sometimes be somewhat overwhelming. I used to do mine every Friday night, but this became too regimented and began to take some of the fun out of it. Once I realised this I switched and just stated that the podcast would come out over each weekend. This can mean Friday, Saturday and even Sunday, which takes some of the pressure off. One of my favorite podcasts, I Miss Blighty was pressured into closing up, which was a real shame. The Little Show, which was also one of my favorite rock music podcasts, just dropped off the face of the earth. Another firm favorite Dark Compass, also took an extended hiatus, but thankfully is now back and it’s good to have the miserable sod back again.
We also had a bit of controversy regarding the word Podcast. Apple looked like they were going to claim the word as their own, but after much public outcry, they seem to have seen the error of their ways. But it’s never over till it’s over. This blip on the podcast radar however found people looking to find an Appleless alternative. Leo Laporte, the Twit guardian and defender of the faith, came up with the term NetCast, which he has adpoted, but now realises the term podcast is pretty much here to stay.
After using Juice as my aggregator of choice, I switched to Google’s Reader and haven’t looked back. Just when you think it’s the perfect solution they come up with more stellar features and take it to a whole new level. I can now listen to podcasts at home, work or anywhere else I have access to the Internet and my subscriptions are all available to me, along with the shows still not listened to. There’s still no sign of Transistr, the aggregator formerly known as iPodderX. This was due for release last March, but has still to open it’s doors to the world. Finally on the subject of aggregators, I still use Egress on my Pocket PC and listen to podcasts while on my way to work on the bus. I could easily use Egress as my main aggregator were it not for the fact that my Pocket PC seems to suck the life out of my battery quicker than you can say Wolfschlenglehausenbergerdorff
I couldn’t finish off this article without mentioning Podshow, more specifically PodShow+ and it’s UK counterpart BTPodshow. Previously Podshow was better know as the play to get music safe for podcasting. They’ve now branched into a podcast directory and hosting service, which has gained many firm favorite podcasts, at the expense of those very annoying GoDaddy mentions. Not that I have anything against GoDaddy. I’ve used many of their services myself, but hate hearing the constant reminders of how I can save 10%.
So there you have it. That’s a very brief look at what happened last year and some things to expect this year. It’s an exciting time to be associated with podcast and I’m sure there’s going to be the odd surprise or two.