Microsoft Blinked — iPod Sees Vista

Among several Windows Vista patches released yesterday, Microsoft included one that lets iPods be disconnected without getting corrupted (see “Microsoft trying to make Vista iPod-friendly” by Ina Fried, CNET News.com). As I reported here and in my other blog (see “iTunes Pulls Over at Vista Point“), iPods suffered from eject problems at the hands of Vista. Many thought that Apple was shunning Vista and being sluggish to fix things on purpose; others thought that perhaps Microsoft was sabotaging the iPod and iTunes. In this industry, both are possible and even likely.

This time, Microsoft blinked first and fixed the problem. Microsoft this week reported 20 million Vista licenses sold since its release. It’s interesting to note that Microsoft has not reported how many copies of Vista it has validated, which would be a very good measure of actual usage. Nevertheless, 20 million Vista PCs are supposedly out there, and some of their owners have iPods. And yet, over 100 million iPods are out there, many connecting to Windows XP machines and Macs.

This is not the only time Microsoft blinked first in a confrontation with Apple over multimedia technologies. The company’s failure to field video authoring software — thereby capitalizing on its advantage of bundling Windows Media Player with the operating system — cost Microsoft the high-end video tools market, which is now Apple’s (with Final Cut and QuickTime).

“Microsoft took several steps to sabotage QuickTime,” reported Avie Tevanian in his monopoly trial testimony (as noted in a very interesting read, Microsoft’s Plot to Kill Quicktime). Microsoft’s sabotage “included creating misleading error messages and introducing technical bypasses that deprived QuickTime of the opportunity to process certain types of multimedia files. In some instances users were left with the false impression that QuickTime was not functioning properly.” One particular error message was a warning Windows 95 presented after the installation of QuickTime, stating that some file types might no longer play — and offering to reinstall Microsoft’s player as the default media application.

Now I remember why I threw those CD-ROM titles out — the ones that wouldn’t play on a PC because QuickTime for Windows seemed not to work. I had experience with both sides of this: I published a Mac/Windows cross-platform CD-ROM title called Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties, and I had to answer hundreds of tech support calls about this error message. This sabotage.

Thanks, Microsoft. While you were sabotaging QuickTime, you were also arranging to get its code from a third party.

I remember Real founder Rob Glaser (at that time, in 1995, the head of the Multimedia PC marketing effort for Microsoft) responding to my plans to publish the CD-ROM using QuickTime for Windows, the only cross-platform technology for multimedia playback at that time. He said, “Good luck with that.”

.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

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