September 20, 2006

I Used To Feel Guilty, But Now I Realize Microsoft Isn't An Easy Target Because Of Their Size, They Are An Easy Target Because Of Their Incompetence

Microsoft released their new, iTunes-assassinating, world-dominating, vertically-integrated, proprietary-file-selling, line of mobile media players and software, called Zune. They blew their horns and released doves into the air. Then it broke.

Zune is being rolled out to replace the ubiquitous Windows Media Player and to take on the formidable iTunes and iPod. Of course, Microsoft built in the most obvious feature to ensure an easy transition from the old player to the new one, right? Almost. They did manage to make the product and the packaging both look like bad, design-school, Apple knockoffs, though. Remember, Microsoft is involved.

The old files from Windows Media Player are locked up by security devices inside the program to accomplish digital rights management (DRM). DRM is the effort to control distribution and piracy of copyrighted materials which became popular after websites such as Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa had teenagers sharing their entire music and movie libraries over the internet. In typical, pathetic, Microsoft fashion, Zune is unable to play any of the protected files from Windows Media Player (i.e. all the media files a person has on their computer and would want to transfer to the new player).

Let us recapitulate. Microsoft invented Windows Media Player. Everyone used it and amassed huge libraries of music and movies. Microsoft was being left behind in the market by Apple. In order to compete, Microsoft invented Zune, the replacement and upgrade to Windows Media Player. Zune is unable to play Windows Media Player files because of Microsoft's own overreaching DRM program and their inability to compete in the lifestyle market (iTunes was released in January, 2001, by the way).

Now for the ironic part. Microsoft's J. Allard dismissed the incompatibility consequences, noting there are several third party programs available to work around the DRM problem. Was that not the big issue! First they try to control distribution and use and now they are advocating working around those controls? Poor, confused, badly handled Microsoft marketing - again.

You can tell yourself several stories about today's tale, but there are really only two conclusions to be drawn about the process of creating a remarkable product your customers will love.

1. "See, even a global megacorporation like Microsoft can make mistakes. This is complicated stuff. If we know about the problems and offer some solutions, everyone will still love us."

2. "Wow, Microsoft really screwed up. I'm glad our global microbrand (pronounced: small business) thought about how our product would affect our customers before we built it."

Buy an iPod.