Microsoft has been in a ton of news lately: they lost their takeover bid of Yahoo in an attempt to garner a better internet strategy and two stories this week pointed out their embracing of Digital Rights Management (DRM), even when such measures can be hostile to their own customers.
The first story is the shuttering of their MSN Music service. It was an attempt to take on the iTunes Music Store and offer paid music downloads. After a couple years of service, they've decided to close down the service but in doing so, they'll turn off the servers that authorize your music tracks so if you ever update your operating system or buy a new computer, your old purchased music files will not play. You would have to buy the songs again using the newer Zune store.
The second story is about NBC shows coming to the Microsoft Zune media player, but with one feature NBC wanted added to the device: the copyright cop. If you buy a NBC show and transfer it to your Zune, a small application will check your Zune for "pirated" shows and movies that weren't purchased from the Zune store, and delete them. It's rumored that this is why the NBC/Apple partnership ended at the iTMS and they removed shows -- because Apple refused to build in this kind of capability.
My takeaway from recent news regarding Microsoft is that they're making a lot of short-sighted decisions in an effort to please large copyright holders, in an effort to build partnerships with studios, but they're forgetting their customers. The iPod and iPhone are fairly locked-down devices and the iTMS sells almost entirely DRM protected content, but it's more popular because the devices and purchasing is easy to do and there's a level of trust between Apple and their customers that Apple isn't going to pull the rug out from under purchasers of music.
Aside from operating systems where they clearly dominate, Microsoft plays second fiddle in a lot of their other businesses. I'm sure there are people on the Microsoft campus that know and understand when MS makes these kinds of customer-hostile decisions to shut down purchased music and delete your content that you will continue to lose customers to other companies, but if MS wants to gain marketshare in any of these fields, they'll have to rethink their strategy. That Microsoft called their version of DRM "Plays For Sure" is the icing on the ironic cake.
(photo from my tour of the Microsoft booth at CES in 2005)