Microsoft goes to battle with Windows Media

Microsoft upped the ante in a growing battle over the distribution of media online with the release of software that offers ways to send and receive copyright-protected audio and video. Microsoft's Windows Media Technologies 4.0 uses a compression format that the software giant says will enable Web surfers to download music files twice as fast as MP3.

Microsoft upped the ante in a growing battle over the distribution of media online with the release of software that offers ways to send and receive copyright-protected audio and video.

Microsoft's Windows Media Technologies 4.0 uses a compression format that the software giant says will enable Web surfers to download music files twice as fast as MP3 (Motion Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer 3), a popular compression technology for downloading music from the Web.

The Microsoft suite of software offers functions that the vendor said should make it easy for content providers such as online music distributors to sell media over the Internet. For instance, Windows Media offers payment mechanisms and a "rights manager," which embeds licensing and other information into media sent online. The media is then "piracy resistant," the company said in a statement issued late yesterday.

The Microsoft technology, available now in a beta test version, throws the software giant into the middle of a nascent but fierce battle over the growing opportunity to sell music directly over the Internet. MP3 has already spurred the rapid growth of Web sites offering music for download over the Internet. The technology, however, has also made it easy to ship pirated music online and raised the ire of record companies.

Together with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), several large record labels have fought the MP3 format and formed a group called the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) that hopes by later this year to hammer out a secure way to sell music online.

Microsoft said in a statement it will propose Windows Media to the SDMI.

The Windows Media technology includes four pieces: Windows Media Player, Windows Media Services, Windows Media Tools and Windows Media Audio SDK (software developers' kit). The beta version can be downloaded for free at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/.

The technology uses a Microsoft-developed compression format that can offer FM-stereo-quality sound to Internet users over standard 28.8K-bit per-second modems, Microsoft said. The software also provides better video quality, the company said.

The Rights Manager, for use by artists and publishers, can be used to set up different types of systems where customers would pay for video or music sent over the Web. As an example, Microsoft said customers could be granted a license to a song by joining a fan club or by using a credit card.

Microsoft said that dozens of content providers and technology companies will support the technology. Absent, however from yesterday's announcement, was backing from large record companies.

One challenge to Microsoft's Web media plans will be RealNetworks , the company that has pioneered streaming audio and video over the Internet. Yesterday, Seattle, Washington-based RealNetworks announced it intends to buy Xing Technology Corp., a developer of MP3-related compression technologies.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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