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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

WMA - Audio Format for Lawyers and 10 Years Behind the Times

Robert Scoble of Microsoft tells us why we shouldn't buy an iPod. As with many others, he confused by the changes in the computer-consumer entertainment industry ... First, the media and the unknowing seems to think we purchased the ipod as a decision choice in the AAC vs WMA debate. Based on the storage capability of the ipod versus the numbers of itunes music stores purchases, it’s pretty clear that 95-99% of the songs stored on ipods are Mp3’s. That is the choice of the CONSUMER. How well would a WMA player sell without Mp3 playback capability? Name ONE car deck that plays WMA but not Mp3’s? NONE. Why? WMA is NOT a consumer format. It is a format that MS lawyers believe all other lawyers along the way would sign off on. It does not even fast forward correctly. Once upon a time, we needed a compressed format (WMA, Real) because we were on dialup and even file server storage was expensive. We no longer need a compressed facsimile of an audio format. We have Mp3’s. It doesn’t matter how many music stores MS launches – between Mp3 and WMA, who outside of Redmond would willing choose WMA? It’s not really a music format – as you cannot fast forward it – it is a format that can play back audio but more importantly – lawyers can sign off on. That is the only reason for its existence. Of course, instead of advertising (Microsoft hasn’t produced a decent ad in 25 years, why start now?) – Microsoft is falling back on the strategy of paying distributors and manufacturers to offer WMA playback. That worked in the olden days of the PC when controlling distribution and manufacturing meant what was on the store shelves was all we had to “buy.” That is NO longer true. If Apple stopped selling AAC Mp4’s tomorrow – what format will win – Mp3’s or WMA? Think about that – consumers have already picked. Mp3’s is OUR CHOICE. And nothing Microsoft does will change that. We even have other “free” choices such as Mp4’s and OGG – but no reason to change – Mp3’s pretty much are satisfactory to 98% of us not working for Microsoft. Now, let’s bring in the ipod. On the hardware side: It looks great. Great interface. Great software. Can boot off of it, stores other digital files. And as an addition, you can buy AAC Mp4’s. Why are AAC Mp4’s so great? While they too are essentially a format only lawyers would like, it’s much closer to an Mp3 than anything else. You can load it into as many ipods as you like. It fast forwards and it sounds and looks like an Mp3. Analog. Mp3’s are the car you own. AAC Mp4’s are the cars you lease. WMA – Hertz. And all the baggage that entails. So having 500 “online” stores selling the same songs is exactly the same as choosing from Avis-Hertz-Budget-Enterprise, it does not make an impact on why we BUY a car – just as we do with Mp3’s. We will lease (like AAC Mp4’s), and of course, we sometimes have to rent but at the end of the day – we’re buying. The ipod plays 5 open formats: Mp3, Mp3 VBR, Mp4, WAV, AIFF and two closed: AAC Mp4 and Audible Audio Book format. From my limited research – that is more than any WMA player. Microsoft should get out of the lawyer’s POV – you’ll end up just like Sony. They OWNED the portable music market and should’ve dominated the Mp3 market but instead, you have to convert EVERYTHING to Sony’s ATRAC Mp3, which plays nowhere else … and where are they? Nowhere. WMA – useful when we were willing to trade audio fidelity for web server space. Now, just a format only lawyer’s would like.

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