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Summary:

A lot has been said, a little has been written that makes sense and much has been misconstrued about Microsoft’s not-so-secret digital music/DRM project called Janus. Like most Microsoft products it is late, and if history is any indicator, then is going to be half-baked when […]

A lot has been said, a little has been written that makes sense and much has been misconstrued about Microsoft’s not-so-secret digital music/DRM project called Janus. Like most Microsoft products it is late, and if history is any indicator, then is going to be half-baked when it gets out of the door sometime in October 2004. But before getting into the nitty-gritty, I would like to analyze the name, because code-names tell a lot about the actual ambition and nature of a project.

According to Roman mythology, Janus was the god of gates. (Or Gates is God! Somebody truly is sucking up to Bill and his desire to beat Steve Jobs again!)

Janus was also thought to represent beginnings. The explanation for this belief comes from the idea that one must emerge through a gate or door before entering a new place. The god Janus has a distinctive appearance in art, as he is often depicted with two faces. It worth noting that Janus was well respected and highly regarded by the ancient Romans.

The beginnings – well not really because the credit for downloadable music goes to someone else. Turning that into a viable business has been an Apple achievement. So what is the beginning here? Perhaps the start of renting music as a consumer trend. Like everything else Microsoft does, it clearly does not take into account human behavior. IPod is a success not because it is cool, but because it’s simple. Microsoft wants to re-wire the genetic human impulse of buying music. We rent movies, we record television and we buy music. (Well unless we are stealing it!)

According to Wikipedia, “Janus was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities and youth and adulthood.” Is Microsoft telling us that it stands between civilization (record companies) and the barbarians (the music stealers?) This is clearly the vision it is trying to sell to the record companies, who are completely befuddled by the whole online music thing. Microsoft can inspire even the most brain dead record executive, though Jobs has been the only guy who has delivered the dollars.

Microsoft is scaring partners into signing up. Rio, Samsung and others who have nary a chance against the elegant simplicity of IPod, are happy to ink the deal, especially if it means Microsoft is going to spend mega-marketing dollars on promoting the product. Beware partners, for this company drops products the way I drop shots of Gray Goose on a Friday night! The fear factor has spread to such an extent, that even MacWorld is writing about Janus. Actually from that standpoint Microsoft’s strategy is working. Informa Media analyst Simon Dyson told the Guardian: “If Microsoft becomes the biggest download site, and it is incompatible with the biggest player, the iPod, that’s potentially ridiculous. It would be a nightmare.”

Microsoft clearly knows it can’t win on ease of use, features, elegance or simplicity. (India winning a dozen gold medals at Athens is an easier proposition!) Just because by a one-in-400 billion chance they got handed a monopoly (dumb competitors have helped along the way), they think an encore in any new market is possible. Microsoft has tried to diversify into many markets – cell phones come to mind, with limited or no success. A company of 50,000 plus employees does not innovate, it imitates. It’s bloated, and so is its attitude towards products. I have used a StinkPad for two weeks now – every day I need a migraine pill. Anyway my point being, with Janus Microsoft is trying to change consumer behavior. No sir those days are gone – now you need to change your company according to the wishes of the consumers.

  1. Microsoft is going to screw up Janus. It will be hacked the first month it is released. People will sign up for music rental, subscription, download 1000′s of tunes, use the available hacks and steall all of those tunes and cancel their subscriptions.

    After that happens the content providers will put an end to Janus so fast it will make Billy’s haed spin.

    For those of you who don’t think Microsoft software can be hacked I have the descriptions of over 90,000 such hacks in my Norton file I can show you.

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  2. Damian — when I said “it’s no longer a Microsoft Windows monopoly world” — what I meant was Microsoft may still have a defacto monopoly on the desktop operating system for 90% of the world — but Apple has cleverly sneaked a “music operating system” on top of the Windows layer — it’s called iTunes. When someone installs this (extremely elegantly engineered) piece of software onto their Windows PC, all the sudden they’ve created an “island” where Apple controls the look, the feel, the content — and the revenues. In one fell swoop they’ve made an end-run right around Microsoft. Now Microsoft’s response is to say the Apple model is wrong??? After millions of songs have been sold, and millions of iPods?? After the iPod has become a cultural phenomenon, featured on the cover of magazines, and on the mind of almost every music fan from the ages of 12 to 72? If people want to “rent” music they can — it’s called Radio, and it’s free. Or XM satellite radio, which is $10 a month. I don’t believe psychologically — fundamentally — I or many others feel comfortable walking around with content that “expires” which we do not own. This notion failed miserably with Circuit City’s ‘DIVX’ initiative which created DVD players which had to call in and authorize each play of a movie, and charge the users credit card for the privilege. Consumer’s saw right through this transparent ploy to rob money from the wallet’s of parents with children who watch “Lion King” dvd 500 times … it’s the wet dream of lawyers, corporate leaders and content companies to be able to make $500 of each DVD, but in reality this will never work out. If people have to pay each time they play a DVD they “own” or each time they thumb through a book they “own” or read a magazine they “own” — they will quickly find other ways of entertaining themselves. And if Microsoft thinks consumers are clamoring for ANOTHER recurring charge on their credit cards (i.e. $10 a month for music subscriptions) then they are crazy. Consumers are tapped out just trying to pay for the forced bundling of their cable TV service (watch Congress to act on this scam soon) and for overpriced broadband (i.e. in Canada, broadband access is closer to $20 US than the $40 where it is here).

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  3. A bit early to say if Microsoft is trying to change consumer behavior with Janus. If they create a fairly seamless DRM solution that deals with all the special cases, then they’re basically doing what Apple did with its copy-protection scheme. My guess is that Janus will support both the rental and purchase of music, and deal with the issues that content providers are scared of – like loading content onto mobile devices.

    Om – you point out that Microsoft doesn’t get the consumer behavior – but I don’t think that’s their customer. Their idea here is to make a software solution that works for the content providers and works for the various device makers. They have to be aware of the consumer behavior – but that’s not their customer. They have to support any number of scenerios.

    And I don’t think Microsoft goal is to become the largest music download site – the margins suck and it means dealing with the record companies which, like any media company, takes too much time for too little output. I’m probably wrong about this – MS like to dominate in everything, but content is not their major play here.

    Microsoft’s play here is to get software licenses from both the media players and the various device manufacturers (and in doing so, push the device manufacturer on the underlying Microsoft OS). So it’s a totally different play from Apple. Now, they might utilize the technology for something on MSN, but that will probably be about the extent of it.

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  4. Bruce – I think you’re missing the point. You’re confusing the software sell with a music service. Microsoft is making software to appease what it clearly sees as a need in the content marketplace – not from consumers (who may or may not want the service), but from content providers who have expressed a desire to have a rentable song that can be moved to other devices. Microsoft is pushing this as a capability, but whether or not it actually succeeds is largely out their control (the exception being their own music store). And as long as they’re selling software, they really don’t care.

    If Virgin called up a software company and said “I want software that does X”, that company would make it – that’s what Microsoft is doing. They’ve already got software that supports purchased licenses on Windows and on mobile devices – this is just an extension. Whether it works or not, who knows and who can predict? Microsoft is, first and foremost, a software company.

    In terms of iTunes being an end-run around Microsoft – I doubt they’re sweating it that much – the service itself is suppose to be breakeven to barely profitable. Apple, of course, makes all it’s money off of the hardware. What will be interesting to see is if Apple can hold onto people while facing an endless onslaught of competition from just about everyone under the sun. So far, companies like Sony have just been played like losers. And it maybe Apple’s closed architecture that undoes them. Who knows though – I would have thought that some valid competitor to Apple would have appeared by now, but so far it’s just been pathetic. It will be more interesting when mobile phones become more capable and the telecos get into the business….

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  5. “Om – you point out that Microsoft doesn’t get the consumer behavior – but I don’t think that’s their customer. Their idea here is to make a software solution that works for the content providers and works for the various device makers. They have to be aware of the consumer behavior – but that’s not their customer. They have to support any number of scenerios.”

    So, Damian — in other words, you’re saying Microsoft cares more about content producers and big media than it does about consumers? Hmmm maybe that’s why so many other Microsoft initiatives have failed, and so many consumers are so wary of ANYTHING Microsoft technology. Everyone knows Microsoft is at heart a ruthlessly bottom-line focused company — nothing wrong with that — but that this “bottom line” thinking usually blinds them to the true needs of those who ultimately pay their salaries — customers. It’s no longer a Windows monopoly world out there, and when consumers have choice, they’ll always choose the solution that easiest to use and offers the most value. At this point that is iTunes and the iPod by a mile.

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  6. Bruce – I’m not saying that Microsoft doesn’t care about consumers – I’m just saying that’s not who they sell their DRM software to – they sell it content providers and device makers which have a large variety of approaches to dealing with consumer. Microsoft’s goal, therefore, is to support all the scenerios that those companes come up with for interacting with the consumer including renting and buying media. Now if the software isn’t user-friendly to the end consumer, then it will fail – but Microsoft usually gets things pretty close by about the 5th version and that’s where we’re at, basically, with the DRM solutions. Remember that this it was really only the last version of Windows Media that got the movie studios comfortable with serving movies via the internet (via companies such as CinemaNow and the MovieLink).

    As for “it’s no longer a Window monopoly” – I don’t see a lot of evidence to support that statement. Apple has continued losing market share, Linux on the server is hitting Unix servers (read: Sun) more than Microsoft, and Linux on the desktop is no where yet. All of this may change of course…particularly internationally or on mobiles where Microsoft faces more serious opposition.

    iPod and iTunes are, without a doubt, the best solution out there at the moment. It’s also very vulnerable to any number of players. Also remember that Apple makes all of it’s money off of the sales of iPods – iTunes is break-even/lose-leader. So if iPods stop flying off the shelf, Apples fortunes could turn. Finally, also remember that Apple has create a closed architecture around the iPod – one has to wonder if they might be a victim of the open source world when people start demanding more portability on their downloaded music. Look at the ruthlessness with which Apple is going after Real for trying to get into iPods.

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  7. “you point out that Microsoft doesn’t get the consumer behavior – but I don’t think that’s their customer.”

    That’s exactly right. I’m reminded of a story I read a year ago or more about the lack of pop-up window blocking in Internet Explorer. A Microsoft representative explained that the reason they didn’t block such behavior was that they had to give the ‘customers’ what the ‘features’ they desired. What customer has asked for ads in your face? Aha! Marketing! Of course.

    I realized then a fundamental difference between Microsoft and Apple: to Apple, customers are the end users of their products; to Microsoft, the users are just users.

    Often the ‘customer’ is the corporation that has purchased large site licences, and the user is just an employee. The more lucrative market would be satisfying the corporations that want to track and sell to Microsoft’s large base of users, not in making things more secure or private for end users.

    The money in media distribution will be in selling DRM to corporations worried about their IP, not in making it easier for the consumer to use that property on multiple players.

    I can see that, so I understand Microsoft’s strategy; but I’m a consumer, so naturally I use Apple’s products instead. : )

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