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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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December 27, 2007 11:41 AM

Apple world: Rent flicks on iTunes; order coffee on iPhone; find community at Apple stores

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Financial Times, quoting "a person familiar with the situation," says Apple is in a deal with movie studio 20th Century Fox to rent digital movies through iTunes, potentially making a key link in the digital entertainment chain.

Currently, only Disney movies are available on iTunes and those only for purchase, not for rent. The 20th Century Fox films would be available to the renter for a limited time. In a related development reported in the FT story, Fox DVDs would be endowed with Apple's FairPlay DRM software, easing the transfer of movies from a computer to a video iPod.

Microsoft has had a similar movie rental model through its Xbox 360 and Xbox Live network since November 2006. In Microsoft's world, rentals must be watched within two weeks of downloading and completed within 24 hours of being started. As far as I know, there's no easy way to move video content from the Xbox console to Microsoft's Zune media players. The Zune's software will automatically move unprotected video content in the .WMV, .MPG4 and H.264 file formats from a PC to a Zune. But I think you'd have to break the DRM lock on a DVD and perhaps convert the file format to take a rented movie to go on your Zune. I'm double checking this.

(Update: Another way to get video onto your Zune, from the Zune web site: "[I]f you're recording TV shows or movies with Windows Media Center in Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, you can import and sync them to your device." This requires a spiffy Vista PC equipped with a TV tuner.)

If the Apple-Fox deal is true, it would seem Apple has beat Microsoft to connecting a key piece of the "connected entertainment" strategy that Redmond has been pursuing. I expect to hear the next steps in Microsoft's strategy when Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach takes the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show next month, as part of Chairman Bill Gates' Jan. 6 keynote.

In other Apple news -- during what has been an otherwise slow week in technology -- Forbes has a look at a recent Apple patent application that would allow people to place orders from a personal digital device, such as an iPhone, and be notified when their order is ready. The author suggests a possible expansion of the digital-music-buying model Apple is exploring with Starbucks to the coffee drinks themselves, and perhaps more: "The patent puts Apple's partnership with Starbucks in a new light. The technology promises to morph Apple from the business of simply selling gadgets and music and movies that can be played on those devices into an intermediary in all kinds of exchanges."

The same story notes Apple applied for a dozen patents in December, including one for a Windows Genuine Advantage-type application to check for pirated software.

And finally, The New York Times offers another take on the appeal of the Apple retail store today. This one casts the temples of commerce as community centers, including an anecdote about an aspiring model writing a book about her struggles on a laptop she could not afford inside one Manhattan store.

The story also includes this quote from Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg, on the service offered inside the stores: "They've become the Nordstrom of technology." Nice nod to the local retailer.

This favorable write-up comes in the same month that The Washington Post diagnosed the Apple retail concept as having become too popular: "The demi-privacy of it, the clubby feeling -- I know that you know that I know that we know and love Macs like nobody else does-- is fading away."

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