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December 14, 2007

Microsoft explains PlaysForSure's demise

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:56 PM

Several bloggers, analysts and journalists have weighed in on Microsoft's decision to pull the plug on PlaysForSure, a program dating to 2004 meant to assure purchasers of digital media players that their new hardware would work with music and videos on Microsoft's Windows Media Player software and digital rights management (DRM).

The general opinion has been that the rebranding to "Certified for Windows Vista," quietly communicated to the public on Wednesday when this Web site was updated, is confusing.

Rob Pegoraro, blogging at The Washington Post, listed some points of confusion:

1) I'm not aware of any PlaysForSure devices that don't also work in Windows XP.

2) The Zune -- which can't play PlaysForSure content -- advertises its Vista support.

3) Some PlaysForSure devices, such as Creative's Zen Micro, can only work in Vista after non-trivial tinkering.

4) The new slogan says nothing about the core selling point of PlaysForSure: That you can buy or rent a song at one store and listen to it on dozens of different devices. (We'll leave out, for now, the occasionally problematic implementation of this goal.)

The move was also viewed as predictable (inevitable?) given that Microsoft, with its Zune media player, has plunged head-first into the closed-system model that Apple employed to competition-crushing success with the iPod and iTunes.

Microsoft product manager Ryan Moore of the Windows Ecosystem team, just chimed in with a reply and explanation of the decision.

"[T]he PlaysForSure technical requirements are now included in the Certified for Windows Vista logo program. Microsoft continues to work closely with its partners to provide a comprehensive platform for testing and certifying hardware and is streamlining the naming of the programs to simplify the logo process."

Moore gave other background on the specification, noting that it "required performance on items like sync time, album art, and playback. One of the requirements was also that it be able to play tracks that are encoded with Windows Media DRM, as many online music stores sell their tracks 'wrapped' in this format."

He continued, "When Windows Vista became available, we launched a program called Certified for Windows Vista, which is designed to give consumers confidence that their hardware devices, such as printers, Webcams, and digital cameras worked exceptionally well with Windows Vista. In order to consolidate logo programs so that consumers just need to look for one logo when shopping for hardware, including media devices, we rolled the specifications of Plays For Sure into the Certified for Windows Vista program and are retiring the Plays for Sure logo. Our hardware partners have been aware of these plans for some time and are supportive of this move."

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Tricia Duryee
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