technology, whatnot

Choose Your Company Wisely: Microsoft, Apple, and DRM

Years ago as the glory ride of Napster was slowly grinding to a halt I read an article that asked which band was for me. The choices were Metallica or The Grateful Dead and the difference was how the bands treated their fans, the consumers. The main difference was that Metallica sued everyone for everything to protect their “interests.” Meanwhile The Grateful Dead allowed anyone to make T-Shirts, bootlegs, and a lot more. One knew that the fans were what was important, the other thought the fans were a means to an end (money), one was Anti-Consumer, the other Pro-Consumer.

I thought back to that article as I read Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Music. Napster is gone (practically), but the two camps live on fighting an eternal war. This time the battle between the Pro and Anti Consumer groups is happening over DRM.

Most people know that Vista is filled with DRM unfriendliness, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this isn’t how it has to be. Apple has DRM in iTunes, true, but an important difference is how it uses it and whether it wants to.

It is clear that when making Vista companies bent on controlling consumers had Microsoft’s ear much more than the consumers. Microsoft isn’t interested in the consumer, they only ask that folks pay at the door and ignore the aches and pains the new DRM measures create.

Apple on the other hand said that removing DRM from music “is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.” Add to that the fact that the Mac OS doesn’t include a gazillion sorts of “content protection” that cripple their operating system which the users that paid them for. Yes, the music has DRM, but Apple is just a middleman and while they are accountable in someways they aren’t the Kingpin in this case. It’s important to remember too that Apple is more than just iTunes, they have all sorts of programs that let you get things done and don’t stop to ask if “content creators” like how you are doing them.

Microsoft has incorporated DRM everywhere it can, defiantly calling it a “new feature” for users, which is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. Peter Gutmann wrote up a cost analysis a while back and Microsoft responded, but the real story is in the comments below their response. Consumers are angry that their computers wont be able to do what they’d expect, and they are angry that Microsoft doesn’t care, and they are angry that DRM is being portrayed as a “feature” they should want. Who can blame them for being upset? I’d be angry too if my exspenisve new computer’s resources were being swallowed by “features” that negatively affect my user experience.

This isn’t to say that Apple is perfect, they do want your money. And to be fair some people correctly point out that not all labels demand DRM on their music. Speculation on logic aside, the point remains that Apple has come out for the consumer in far more ways than Microsoft has come out against the consumer. With Jobs’ Thoughts on Music a bold statement has been made about the relationship between Apple and DRM.

So, which company is for you? Would you rather be in the company of Metallica’s and Microsoft’s lawyers or be allowed to get things done in the company of The Grateful Dead and Apple?