Paul Thurrott: Microsoft Confirms Move to DRM-Free Music

Following EMI's (and Apple's) announcement last week regarding their decision to sell digital music without digital rights management restrictions, Microsoft admitted that it too, would offer music without DRM. Microsoft says it has been working with EMI and other record labels for quite some time, and will offer DRM-free music via the Zune Marketplace, as soon as possible. "The EMI announcement is not exclusive to Apple. Consumers have made it clear that unprotected music is something they want. We plan on offering it to them as soon as our label partners are comfortable with it," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Microsoft currently sells songs on Zune Marketplace in the Windows Media Audio format, which suggest that it will continue to do so, but without DRM. On the other hand, EMI has specified that services are free to use whatever format they'd like, including industry-standard MP3, which would be the most interoperable option. Anyone can see that the latter is the likelier to deal a blow to Apple, but will Microsoft really go through with ditching their own format, or maybe they'll offer both DRM-free WMA and MP3?

News source: WindowsITPro

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Microsoft + Opensource = forget it, unless they buy it and hide the source code!

WMA: still best format... People need to stop thinking about Microsoft as the big stupid company... If you say Microsoft to an average Joe they think about something they trust and they rely on... People might say Windows is unstable, but only people who messed with it will say that!

FLAC for me. I would never listen to anything else on my main HiFi. I have to laugh that companies actually sell all these horrible compressions and people buy them. Until more companies cater to fans of high end audio I will continue to purchase vinyl and well recorded CD and HDCD. More and more people are going to 1080i and full 1080p picture quality, why expect anything less in your audio preference?

MayoStudenT

MayoStudenT said,
FLAC for me. I would never listen to anything else on my main HiFi. I have to laugh that companies actually sell all these horrible compressions and people buy them. Until more companies cater to fans of high end audio I will continue to purchase vinyl and well recorded CD and HDCD. More and more people are going to 1080i and full 1080p picture quality, why expect anything less in your audio preference?

MayoStudenT

If I put 5 flac tunes and 5 mp3 192 tunes in front of you...... I would bet £1000 you wouldn't be able to tell the difference..... "flac is the only one for me......" jeez..... what a n00b

Note that about 2.5 billion songs have been purchased from iTunes. Simple math says that on average, that's 25 songs per iPod. Apple gets maybe 10 cents per song purchased, which means they make an average of two-and-a-half dollars on content per unit.

If your online service made $2.50 for content per customer on average on a $200-350 device, would that be a runaway success?

Compared to all other services, this amount actually is a runaway success. But it's only due to the sheer number of customers out there, not because customers flock to the service. And we're talking about people who love either their iPod, or they love Apple as a whole...if any service SHOULD be flocked to, the fervent iPod lovers would be it. But $2.50 average for all customers says they aren't flocking.

Is the low average turnout due to DRM? Not likely. It probably has more to do with the fact that they would have to pay money if they wanted to download songs. Charging a 30% premium increase in price may not do much to help download sales, regardless if the audio quality is higher or the file plays on more than one portable device.

I personally believe MS was working on non-DRM option before Apple made their announcement. I also believe Apple already had an agreement with EMI two months ago, just before Jobs posted his open letter stating DRM should die. It's just common sense: we aren't downloading songs, therefor we aren't paying the record labels, and the label execs have to do something besides suing grade-schoolers and grandmas to get music sales going.

But simply removing DRM might not be it.

Good news, I can finally start buying a lot of music, will be for my iPod but who knows now, maybe a zune/ other player one day if I can move music to any player I want.

Neobond said,
I'm just surprised that Paul didn't claim this information as his own!

All the rest are just jumping on the bandwagon!

Give him some time. Eventually he'll write an article saying he knew about all this for months and take complete credit for making it happen.

Actually WMA is a better format than mp3 and who says everything has to play on a stupid ipod? So what that a lot of people have them, they are too restrictive I think. ACC is not the future at all. I really think most people are just following the drones before them who bought an ipod, if you really look at the players out there, there are better values that work with more content than an ipod.

Good though to see DRM-free being more readily available. It has been what has kept me from considering buying music via download. I want to use it where I want, not be limited.

If they're following a trend, the iPod's are still getting sold, and this music can't play on them. Saying people are just drones and are using incompatible devices means nothing, they're still using those devices.

Upon importing a WMA into iTunes (at least on the Windows version) the software prompts that it has to be transcoded in order to work in the iTunes software and iPod hardware.

AAC is a great format. But Apple includes a crap encoder with their software. If you are transcoding use Nero or similar better encoder.
Urge has the best bitrate I have seen on online services. Hopefully Urge will follow DRM-free route soon.

Why isn't AAC "the future"?, would you like to stay with MP3 or some other older MPEG format?

Or should we go down the proprietary codec route?

Or should we start using the open codec's like Vorbis? (good idea IMO)

Continuing to sell WMA files is dumb. They won't play on any one of the 100 million iPods that have been sold. The MP3 format is played-out. AAC is the future.

I agree, but not on Microsoft's behalf. From their perspective, those 100 million iPods aren't important, since they're working on the Zune. If the Zune isn't as successful as they'd like, I can see them moving to another format.

IMO, WMA is the format holding them back from taking over the music selling market, and their lack of Mac and GNU/Linux support (even though that's only about 5-10% of the market).

I, like most people, like the idea of DRM-free music. My only concern is that subscription services will cease to exist. I have been subscribing to Napster (and more recently URGE) for the past 4 or so years and love it. I don't want those options to no longer be available.

jadkins555 said,
I, like most people, like the idea of DRM-free music. My only concern is that subscription services will cease to exist. I have been subscribing to Napster (and more recently URGE) for the past 4 or so years and love it. I don't want those options to no longer be available.

I sincerely doubt that this, if it is actually adopted, will eliminate the "all you can eat" subscription services. Many people like that option and they still have to keep those customers happy.

They aren't really that good, that's what.

Newer codecs can fit better quality music in a smaller filesize, i can get 256Kbps AAC into a file the same size as 128Kbps MP3.

The_Decryptor said,
They aren't really that good, that's what.

Newer codecs can fit better quality music in a smaller filesize, i can get 256Kbps AAC into a file the same size as 128Kbps MP3.


Umm, no you can't.

256k is 256k. It doesn't matter what codec you use, if both files are the same bitrate then both files are the same size.

Now, AAC is a more efficient codec. It could be argued that at 128k it can sound as good as a 256k mp3, hence the AAC would be half the size (not that I'd agree, I'd say 128k AAC is more akin to 192k mp3 - LAME is a really good encoder especially with it's new vbr mode)

Good, they are starting to see the light. Next step, remove WGA and product activation. I'm probably a bit overly optimistic.

yeah... I don't think "prove to us you're running a legit version of windows before we give you patches and updates" is the same thing as "no moving files from one comptuer to another, or one device to another, no downloading, even to same computer, more than 4 times..."

One's a reasonable practice of a company finally getting fed up with pirates that have made their software easier to pirate then legitamtly install the other is an entire industry crippling user's rights.,

This would be awesome!

I don't see them go away from WMA and honestly, I don't want them to. MP3 is good, but it is really dated, WMA not so.

newer... well I'm not goign to check on the dates but I'm not sure if thta's 100% true as opposed to the latest WMA anyway

better... arguable, and from your post I'm thinking you're biased anyway

open source... yeah and so what ? it's a music format, it doesn't make the music better, it doesn't make the files last longer, and it definately doesn't make it playable on any large maount of MP3 players. Your one reason for preferring OGG over WMA fell away with the DRM.

@MR. T: Formats aren't open source. Programs are.
And ogg is a container, if I remember correctly. Vorbis is what you're looking for :-p (but that's just nitpicking)

HawkMan said,
newer... well I'm not goign to check on the dates but I'm not sure if thta's 100% true as opposed to the latest WMA anyway

better... arguable, and from your post I'm thinking you're biased anyway

open source... yeah and so what ? it's a music format, it doesn't make the music better, it doesn't make the files last longer, and it definately doesn't make it playable on any large maount of MP3 players. Your one reason for preferring OGG over WMA fell away with the DRM.


The one reason for using Ogg is not lack of DRM (I'm sure it's possible to add DRM to the files), it's the lack of patent encumbering.
There are no patents, the format is entirely open, which is quite useful (I won't have to pay anyone to write my own encoder/decoder).

BigBoy said,
I don't see them go away from WMA and honestly, I don't want them to. MP3 is good, but it is really dated, WMA not so.
I'd like the option personally. I concur that out of the formats out there MP3 is definetly one of the most dated and WMA is more space effiecient and all however MP3 has has the one killer feature and that is compatability. Pretty much 100% of the market will play MP3's as opposed to WMA, Ogg, Lame or whatever where you have to be a bit more predantic about what player you choose. For that reason I tend to use MP3 nowdays despite its potential pitfalls. I had 3000 trancks in wma and then decided to spend 3 days re ripping my collection to MP3 as I realised that the chance that my next mp3 player would be an iPod was quite high and even if not it still makes my life easier.

WMA ftw (Y)

Unless it's all LAME encoded MP3s at 320Kbps, then I will consider changing to buying my music online. Otherwise CDs ftw lol.

The industry is finally figuring out that end users hate DRM which they've been told all along. Thankfully they're beginning to take note and are doing something about it, albeit still on a somewhat limited basis and not without some strings attached.

Shane Pitman said,
The industry is finally figuring out that end users hate DRM which they've been told all along. Thankfully they're beginning to take note and are doing something about it, albeit still on a somewhat limited basis and not without some strings attached.

yes, and one day industry will embrace opensource :)....errr *record screech noise*

Microsof'ts "big DRM Push" in vista is largely a manufactured story.... so the point was to make Microsoft and Vista out to be a horrible OS...

"Vista DRM push" is definitely FUD.

Read this if you want to see what will play and under which restrictions. In just a few words - MORE will play under Vista than under XP... and it's not like Microsoft started protecting the content in the 1st place... the big labels did.

You asked what the point behind Vista's DRM was? Well it has something to do with 2 next gen dvd formats. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD both these formats have DRM that is more advanced than MP3 and DVD DRM's so therefore vista's DRM stance makes alot of sense from that standpoint.

Rolith said,
Microsof'ts "big DRM Push" in vista is largely a manufactured story.... so the point was to make Microsoft and Vista out to be a horrible OS...

Yep and Vista is a big DRM craphole. MS shouldn't be messing with DRM in the firsdt place... its got nothing to do with them.

Also the mere fact that drm is used adds a layer of abstraction to the OS making it slower.

So DRM isn't a manufactured story... its real and its sh*t!!!

Monkey see, monkey do, although in this instance i'm not complaining as hopefully everyone else will now follow suite.

The comments suggest that Microsoft was working on a deal at the same time Apple was. Maybe they waited for the Apple deal to go through to see the reaction or maybe not, but it seems true that they were exploring this. Both MS and Apple have talked up DRM in the past, and both of them have talked it down more recently, Bill Gates himself complaining about it. There's no reason for people to use this news to make cheerleader-like statements for Apple.

And? Talking to someone about a possible deal is not a deal. In fact, we know EMI was offering a deal to everyone but Apple (hoping that provided them some leverage to motivate the distributors) before. No one got a deal done, no one wanted to pay EMI. Apple did it first, and they are most likely the ones who proposed tiered-pricing, same pricing on albums... which is probably what got the deal over the hump.

All this article and Microsoft's statement confirms is that they talk to people they have to talk to.

There is no indication that they want to pay up front, that they know whether to select wma, mp3, or AAC, that they will accept tiered pricing, that they have a plan for how this competes with/co-exists with subs.