MSN Music: Microsoft Flexes Music Muscle

In Wired News today, a report I filed on Microsoft's new music download service:

A help page on the beta site provides instructions describing how users can enable MSN Music downloads to play on their iPods.Microsoft's recent criticism of Apple for not licensing iPod functionality to third-party tech companies is not without irony, given past accusations of anticompetitive behavior that resulted in Microsoft agreeing last year to pay out $1.8 billion to settle consumer antitrust suits. Just last Friday, six California municipalities sued Microsoft over claims it overcharged government customers because of its effective monopoly in computer operating systems.

The company's new war against iTunes and the iPod is seen by some industry watchers as not unlike its earlier war for market share against the Netscape browser — which Internet Explorer won. In light of the fact that Microsoft claims its MSN hub attracts more than 350 million monthly unique users, sheer reach — rather than product feature details — may ultimately determine who wins this war.

Open-format activists like Jason Schultz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ask why the company doesn't simply strip DRM altogether, and lament the fact that Microsoft's service launch makes it all the more likely that two opposing proprietary systems — Microsoft's and Apple's — will now dominate a marketplace some feel would be better served by open standards such as MP3.

"Microsoft's music launch is just the latest effort to 'bring music to the masses' by, ironically, setting up a new, separate, incompatible DRM fiefdom," said Schultz. "The thing people love about the internet is that you can send e-mail to anyone in the world with any e-mail client. In the digital music world, however, we're seeing an increasing trend toward technological balkanization.

Link to story, and Link to MSN Music. More of Jason Schultz's comments on the service launch are here.