Apple’s vs. Microsoft’s music DRM: whose solution supports more users?

“There is some misleading reporting going on in technology circles with regard to digital music. It seems that some journalists are still giving Microsoft’s DRM [Digital Rights Management] kudos for being ‘more open’ as compared to Apple’s. While it’s true that Apple requires that you acquire digital music online through the iTunes music store, Apple is the more multi-platform-friendly of the two. Microsoft requires that users of its DRM run Windows while Apple addresses nearly 100% of the desktop operating system market. ‘JuggerNaut’ submitted the following editorial to osOpinion/osViews, which shows that neither are more open than the other and that Apple is winning this race by simply delivering what consumers want,” reports.

‘JuggerNaut’ writes, “Neither Apple or Microsoft have a totally open solution to offer to open-minded consumers. Both Apple’s FairPlay and Microsoft’s PlaysForSure solutions are proprietary in nature with the idea of locking the consumer into a certain technology; whether it be the iPod and iTunes with your choice of Mac or Windows or a PlaysForSure supported device and complimentary music service software for the Windows-only world. Microsoft can scream openness all it wants by saying that it supports 60+ digital music players and other smoke and mirrors hyperbole, but if it’s a Windows-only solution from the get go, 60+ million digital music players won’t make a difference because the differentiation between all those devices are so insignificant that people really don’t care to begin with, which is probably why the iPod has been so successful.

Full article here.
As we wrote last Saturday: Apple’s roadkill whine in unison: ‘incompatibility is slowing growth of digital music’ – August 13, 2005


  1. The choice that MS offers is you can either buy crap, or you can buy a bigger piece of crap. “We offer over 60 choices of crap” said a Microsoft spokesperson.

    “Furthermore, you can count on getting a consistently bad user experience with all of them. That’s the kind of consistency we strive for here at Microsoft. No one will have a worse user experience than that next person” he added. “That strategy has worked great for us in the PC markets. “Everyone is miserable, therefore no one knows any different.”

  2. That’s an easy question to answer as far as who supports more users. The answer is iTunes. In fact it’s the only answer as it is the only music store that sells to both Mac and PC users equally.

    Next question.

  3. Non-Windows, OS X users still out in the cold

    Article is right that neither solution is “open”. Microsoft’s appears less robust because it requires the Microsoft OS to use it, while Apple’s is multi-platform (as long as those platforms are WinXP or OS X!)

    Still, the only thing “open” about MS DRM is that they are licensing it. Should Apple license Fairplay to Real, Google, or others down the road, they would be just as open. In the same way, should Apple decide to license Fairplay to other device makers (don’t hold your breath on that!) they would also be just as “open”.

    Open, free, accessible markets are probably the most powerful human force we experience. They create equilibrium like gravity. Obviously, the open, free, and accessible global market for digital audio is overwhelmingly in favor of Apple’s model.

    MDN: lines

  4. Apple is the market leader…
    Just a question:
    Is it in Apple’s best interest to license fairplay?

    Right now it is primarily a business decision, not a consumer issue. Between ITMS & your own CD collection (minus the new Dave Mathews album) you can put on anything you wish to your iPod.

    Apple is the ONLY company providing the whole widget: player/software/downloadable music.

    The other companies are producing FUD out of retaliation, not consumer advocacy.

    As for the arguement regarding multiple OSes, OS X & Windows XP is more than the other parties. Linux users (sorry to say) are always left out in the cold unless there is an open source alternative.

  5. While I agree with a lot of the sentiments here, not of that really addresses the question of open-ness. Here’s what I mean: somebody wants to get in on this new market, make a music store, make a music device, whatever. What choices do they have? Well, they can’t license fairplay. So, ummm, they look around, hmm, guess they pretty much have to license janus (MS’s DRM). That’s why there’s 60+ players, and why MS’s DRM is considered more “open”, because they’ll license and Apple won’t.

    Now I’m not saying Apple should, necessarily, though I think if they did selectively, it could be very good (don’t know if they can do that or not legally). I also agree, Apple’s the only one who supports more than one OS – of course, they don’t support Linux or other OSes either, so neither Apple nor MS really is much of a true OPEN solution.

    As me pointed out, obviously the market is overwhelmingly in favor of Apple’s model. Why? It’s better! In fact, it’s WAY better! I love my iPod!!! ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

    I do worry a little about Microsoft licensing and Apple not, though, and think it may eventually bring down the iPod to low marketshare, with tons of other players dividing up the remaining share to some low number. Anybody else think this is gonna happen?

  6. God.. the ONE THING Apple fought hard for was a non-restrictive DRM.. people seem to have forgotten that, if it wasn’t for their simple pricing and hardline on users rights.. the iTMS would be a total failure.

    It’s not ALL about being hip and posing with Bono.

    Yet here we are.. daring to ask who’s got the friendlier DRM.

    Without question, Apple’s DRM is the secret to the iTMS’s success. If that sucked, the iPod would still do quite well but people would hate buying music. They’d just steal it.

  7. I think this is his best statement:

    “I think what people fail to realize is that the iTMS, iTunes and iPod trio are actually a single product.”

    This is where MS, Creative, Real, et al totally drop the ball. They think if you add some voice recorder, FM tuner, thermometer, heart-rate monitor, radar detector and/or toaster to the hardware, that they can beat Apple. People just want a device where you can push a button and it does what it is supposed to do.

    The other thing everyone forgets is that this situation is TOTALLY different from the OS wars. Why? Apple doesn’t have to worry about software development. The music is the “software” and unless the record companies withhold their “software libraries” from Apple, no company enjoys a “software advantage.”

  8. There must come a time when Apple decides to allow others to licence FairPlay.

    It could be soon, or it could be in the distant future, but it will have to happen at some point. Maybe the rumours about Google may be the start of this process.

    Apple is now so overwhelmingly dominant in this field that it’s hard to see any significant downside to opening it up, at least to selected manufacturers who will produce quality products that complement those of Apples, rather than compete with them.

    The only advantage that I can see in Apple’s current strategy is that one by one, all of the other hardware manufacturers and on-line music distributors are realising that they’re not making money doing what they’re doing at the moment and that their strategy is not sustainable.

    Perhaps Apple might be waiting for a spectacular crash before opening up to some of those remaining. Then they will be in a much stronger position to negotiate favourable terms ( for Apple ).

  9. When will apple open up the market to all “players”?

    Probably when it appears that their iPod market has slowed down to no growth. At that time it would suggest that the mp3 market would be saturated, and that everyone that wanted one would have one, and that the only thing left to sell would be music.

    They would then introduce another iTunes update that would support all players, and the real business of selling music would begin.

    I suspect.

    MW “long”. May take a long time for this to happen.

  10. flashxl,

    I actually hope it is a short time. It will drive competition, innovation, features and choice. None of which are bad. The iPod is nice, but it isn’t perfect.

    As so many have said before, M$ doesn’t innovate because it doesn’t have to. Soon, Apple may be in a similar position with MP3 players. That’s why I hope FairPlay becomes licensed.

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