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Confusing, For Sure

Why can't Microsoft make up its mind about its brand names? This company, more than almost any other tech operation, can't seem to resist the temptation to blur the identity of a product by fracturing it into different editions or "rebranding" it altogether.

For instance, after years of asking people to decide between the Home and Professional editions of Windows XP, Microsoft decided that was all too simple--and shipped five different editions of Windows Vista in the U.S alone.

Its latest blunder may remove all hope of consumers understanding its digital-music strategies. The folks in Redmond have somehow seen fit to rename "PlaysForSure", the moniker of a somewhat-widely-used digital-music system, as "Certified for Windows Vista."

The move defies explanation on multiple levels:

1) I'm not aware of any PlaysForSure devices that don't also work in Windows XP.

2) The Zune--which can't play PlaysForSure content--advertises its Vista support.

3) Some PlaysForSure devices, such as Creative's Zen Micro, can only work in Vista after non-trivial tinkering.

4) The new slogan says nothing about the core selling point of PlaysForSure: That you can buy or rent a song at one store and listen to it on dozens of different devices. (We'll leave out, for now, the occasionally problematic implementation of this goal.)

It's as if Microsoft is trying to pretend that the entire PlaysForSure concept never existed. If you own a PlaysForSure gadget, what's your reaction to this development? How confident are you in your purchase's future?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  December 14, 2007; 8:08 AM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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This is why I avoid mp3 players that force me to use any program to "see" my player. I use devices that show up automatically as a flash drive so that I can use explorer to copy mp3s directly to the player.

Posted by: dgc | December 14, 2007 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I was burned once by buying an iPod without enough research to know that it would really only work with iTunes. Like dgc, now I refuse to buy hardware that is tied to software.

Software developers - if you want people to use your software, it is as simple as making good software. Shaddy software will drive people away from your hardware device. And worse yet, it will make people like me recommend alternative hardware. Already this holiday season in my circle of aquaintences, 3 people who were aquiring mp3 players veered away from the iPod offering to a generic player.

OK, so this response is less about PlayForSure and Microsoft than it is about forcing bad software. But then I was only mildly amused with Microsofts backpeddling - not suprised in the least. I have so little respect for Microsoft.

Posted by: Craig | December 14, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

re: the writer that wanted to transfer 1950-1960 home movies/film to DVD. If the film is 16mm [about 1/2 wide] then it will be projected at 24 frames per second. Today's standard definition video has a rate of 30 fps. If the film is 8mm then it may be 18 fps. Nominally there should not be any issues.

Projecting the film image on a white card [optimally a piece of ground glass] and aiming a video camera at it should deliver an acceptable image on either tape or DVD recording. The best results will come from putting the camera on a tripod and trying to have it as opposite to center of the screen's image; an equal distance from either edge [left/right] and the top and bottom. The image should not be larger than 24" across or so. Not zooming into the image but rather placing the camera lens in the "full wide" setting and physically moving it closer to the screen allows for better resolution because more light is transmitted to the CCD's on a wide angle than on a long lens [zoomed in ].

By making sure that the camera is physically near to center of the image will eliminate any potential keystone effect [vertical lines that are not straight].

Another nice thing about doing the transfer this way [home camera] is that the family can narrate/comment on the transfer as it takes place and the on-camera mic will record that also.

The frame rate should not be an issue but if there is a shutter on the camera, setting it to either 24 or 16 [depending on film size] will take care of that and making sure that the lamp in the projector is in good shape. [Using the shutter makes being 'dead center' more crucial.]

Posted by: Bill Canter - Chevy Chase, MD | December 14, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

It's incomprehensible to me that Microsoft would complicate matters like this. I have a Toshiba GigabeatS player, and it syncs beautifully thru Media Player 11 using Windows XP. Does this mean that if I upgrade to Vista I won't be able to sync? This is progress?

Posted by: hndymn | December 14, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"(We'll leave out, for now, the occasionally problematic implementation of this goal.)
It's as if Microsoft is trying to pretend that the entire PlaysForSure concept never existed."

You really don't think there's a relationship between these 2 sentences? We can leave this point out for now, however some bright legal minds might not as soon as a customer falls into the problematic part of the whole concept. Class action anybody?
Try that move now, see how fast your head will start spinning. Microsoft 1-consumers 0.
No DRM stuff here, of any kind, since that Sony BMG root-kit mess. And no regrets, I have actually (re)discovered the joys of listening to the radio (yeah, OK, digital radio, but still....)

Posted by: cyanna | December 14, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

This fits right in with Microsoft's E^3 development plan.

Step 1 - Embrace
Hey Creative, Dell, Toshiba, et. al let us provide you with some software that can allow people to buy songs from online stores and hook up with all your devices. We will call it PlaysforSure(R).

Step 2 - Extend
Now that we have learned how not to set up an online music distribution system, we will build a new digital music player (Zune) to compete with you that is not compatible with our previous system.

Step 3 - Extinguish
Now we are going to rebrand PlaysforSure so that it becomes completely unclear to consumers what it means and destroys your sales, so now consumers will be more likely to buy our device. +1 bonus point for rebranding to pimp our new poorly selling Operating System.

Posted by: tdd | December 14, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I have no idea what any of this means, but it sure as heck doesn't make me want to buy a Microsoft music product anytime soon.

Posted by: Tom T. | December 14, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I've a huge collection of music - vinyl, cassettes, VHS, CD, DVD. I likely never will collect music in the MP3 format tho, why sacrifice quality? Not to mention the BS like written about here. I'll stick to my CD players, thank you very much.

Posted by: Strider | December 14, 2007 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Well it redefined "for sure" with the original branding...

The other big footnote to "PlaysForSure" was that is appears to only apply to devices with US firmware. Microsoft has never been forthcoming on limitations with devices (such as those from iRiver) which may function rather differently with non-US firmware, even to the extent that device ports are remapped and DRM behaviour is different.

Posted by: Mike | December 14, 2007 9:59 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of another Microsoft "blunder" which never received the media attention it deserved. Microsoft, started to introduce HD content for WindowsXP. Then came VISTA and the capability to watch HD content on a WindowsXP computer essentially disappeared. Forced obsolesce and the use of proprietary technologies is a detestable practice.

Posted by: Steve R. | December 15, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

There is only one way to get Microsoft's attention. Get a Mac.

Posted by: John | December 16, 2007 5:57 AM | Report abuse

Microsoft can and has been able to support and recover from its many blunders. I wonder when they will realize their customers may not have such deep pockets, nor forgiving nature as does MS management. Given MS coffers are not shaken by the error of their ways, hence MS management will continue blundering along.

Necessity is the mother-of-invention. What MS needs is a necessity to do anything, and I don't think that is possible with the corporate culture as it currently stands. MS is lackluster at best and still riding the Gates cashwagon.

Lights on - Nobody home!

Posted by: Chuck G | December 16, 2007 7:50 AM | Report abuse

The entire business model for electronic music has been screwy since the beginning. It'd be like having cars that only run on certain brands of gasoline. I think the emusic market would expand considerably if it was more fluid and consumers didn't have to worry about compatibility problems.

Posted by: ugh | December 16, 2007 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Apple's iTunes offers the largest DRM-free digital music library. Apple truly represents what the "Plays For Sure" concept should have been. (Amazon and eMusic also offer DRM-free music, however their libraries are smaller than Apple's.)

Microsoft has never gotten the concept of what digital music should be. First they offered the PlaysForSure concept through it's partners which didn't gain much traction in the marketplace. Then they offered their own Zune player with it's own crazy DRM and 'squirting' of songs that self-destruct. Add in music subscriptions where you need to pay Microsoft 'protection money' or your music will disappear. Now, to show everyone how well it understands digital music (and to mess with it's 'partners'), Microsoft has seen fit to rebrand PlaysForSure to something that will further confuse the marketplace.

With partners like Microsoft, who need's competitors?

Posted by: J Powell | December 17, 2007 6:05 PM | Report abuse

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