The Songbird open source media player is a noble attempt at commoditizing an application that is key to the home media revolution. Having an open media player that is adjustable and can be used for any platform or application is an obvious win for consumers. And by supporting digital rights management (DRM), it should even have the RIAA jumping up and down in excitement.
But it's too late for anyone who has bought into the iPod vision.
Their iTunes media purchases don't play in the Songbird player, and they won't for any time soon. Apple refuses to make the underlying Fair Play DRM technology available to any outside developers, as they fear that the code will leak out. At least, that's the official party line.
Practically, the DRM monopoly on the iPod also allows Apple to hold a firm grip on the digital media market. Napster or Yahoo Music content won't play on the iPod. Consumers want the iPod because it's hot, but that also ties them to the iTunes music store for their digital music purchases.
The iPod is all about vendor lock-in, and that strategy has worked brilliantly well for Apple.
But will it work long term?
Apple might have a strong position in the market for digital music downloads. But the video segment is still up for grabs. There Intel Viiv with its Windows Media DRM has a much richer media library. And contrary to Apple, Microsoft will license its DRM to anyone who is willing to pay the (nominal) license fee.
You can say all you want about Microsoft's past and present wrongs, but in the media market Microsoft represents consumer choice. How long will it take before consumers realize that the iPod's hipness comes at a price?
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