Microsoft’s Janus will keep looking

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.

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