Apple: Windows Media Player against standards

Apple Computer Inc. says that Microsoft Corp.'s release of Windows Media Player 9 Thursday, shows the software giant is still trying to catch up to QuickTime 6, Apple's content creation and media player technology. Apple said the release of Windows Media Player 9 also shows the public how anti-standards Microsoft really is.

First introduced in February 2002 at QuickTime Live, QuickTime 6 features a new technology called Instant-On. The technology eliminated one of the more frustrating things about watching streaming media on the Internet: buffer delays. Instant-On eliminates buffer delays and provides users with the ability to quickly and easily scrub through streaming media content to locate and instantly view specific sections.

With the release of Windows Media Player 9, Microsoft introduced its customers to a technology called FastStream, which like Instant-On eliminates buffer delays.

"It was flattering that they were comparing themselves to QuickTime and are largely following our lead," Frank Casanova, Apple's director of QuickTime product marketing, told MacCentral. "They announced what they call FastStream, which is basically our Instant-On technology -- they just released the beta version, while we have shipped tens of millions of copies of it already in QuickTime 6."

The similarities don't stop there. Microsoft introduced Auto Playlists Thursday, a feature similar to one Apple introduced in its iTunes application.

"They moved to some of the playlist management that we introduced in earlier versions of iTunes and song ratings that we released with iTunes 3 in July," said Casanova. "A lot of things they are doing clearly are following our lead."

One place that Apple wishes Microsoft would have followed their lead is making Windows Media Player a standards-based application. Instead, Microsoft made the player support its own proprietary Windows Media format.

"There's one area that they are not following our lead, and it's too bad," said Casanova. "We wish Microsoft, like Real Networks, would follow our lead in adopting and supporting industry standards. What's become very clear is that they [Microsoft] have become anti-standards -- it's not just anti-standards, they are turning their back on standards."

Apple is a co-founder of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) -- an organization dedicated to the development of products and technologies that adhere to industry standards. The International Organization for Standards (ISO) chose QuickTime as the file format for MPEG-4, and Apple is working with other ISMA members to bring interoperable MPEG-4 products and technologies to market.

Real Networks last December said it would include support for MPEG-4 content in future versions of its media player. Theoretically, with MPEG-4, content authored in QuickTime could be dropped on Real's application and it would recognize and play the content.

"They believe they are so big that they can take away what consumers want," said Casanova. "They believe their size and momentum can drive an entire industry in a proprietary direction with technologies built by Microsoft. That direction is very much opposite to where most of the industry is going."

The MPEG standards have been around since the early 1990s with the release of MPEG-1; MPEG-2 followed in the mid-nineties, setting the stage for what Apple and standards organizations believe will be the next widely used standard, MPEG-4.

MPEG-4 features a smaller file size and improved video and audio with Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Microsoft introduced similar features in Windows Media Player 9 this week, as well as improved Digital Rights Management (DRM) in an effort to lure Hollywood from the open standards of QuickTime-based technologies currently used in the movie industry.

"Hollywood looks for flexibility and interoperability -- that's why standards matter. If they are pressing a DVD, they want to make sure it can play in the millions of DVD players on the market. Standards provide that level of comfort and predictability -- proprietary technologies make you guess," said Casanova.

Apple said they are also working on DRM for use with MPEG-4, but once again their solution will be standards based, not proprietary.

"We agree that rights managed assets are important to protect people's content, said Casanova. "We don't condone people stealing music, so we put in controls in our iPod, for example, that won't allow people to use it as a music shuttle. The DRM that we will pursue will be standards based. We are actively working on DRM around MPEG-4, but it will be a DRM that is open to everybody, but closed from a security standpoint."

Apple believes that working with standards makes the experience better for the consumer and the providers using the technologies.

"The fundamental difference in codec technologies is that ours will play in any ISO-compliant player -- Microsoft's will only play in their own player. We're trying to make things easier on the Internet; we're trying to make things easier for content providers and consumers. Encode in one format and play it back in every ISO-compliant player. That's not Microsoft's way, they are anti-standards, so they won't adopt that philosophy -- they want to encode in Windows Media, play it back in Windows Media and they don't want anyone else to be in their food chain. We don't believe that."

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Jim Dalrymple

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