Q&A: Choosing a Digital Music Service for Windows Users

Dave Fester, General Manager, Windows Digital Media Division. Click image for high-res version.

REDMOND, Wash., October 15, 2003 — With the recent launch of several new digital music services for the Microsoft Windows operating system — including Napster 2.0, BuyMusic.com, MusicNow, and Musicmatch — and a growing list of new services queuing up to launch by year’s end, the digital music landscape is rapidly evolving. Add in strong growth in the sale of portable audio devices, and it becomes evident that this is a period of incredible excitement and increasing choices for consumers in how and where they experience digital music.

PressPass spoke with Dave Fester , General Manager of Microsoft’s Windows Digital Media Division, to get more information on how the music services work, what kind of portable devices are available, and things to consider when selecting a Windows-based music service.

PressPass: In the last few months, we’ve seen the launch of many music services by Napster, BuyMusic.com, MusicNow, and Musicmatch. What does the emergence of this range of services mean for consumers?

Fester: First, it’s an exciting time for digital music fans where, finally, a broad choice of innovative and appealing legitimate music services has arrived. In at least one respect, you can look at the online music services in a similar way to how you look at traditional CD stores: consumers want and expect to be able to choose where they buy their music. One store might have a particular CD or single that you’re looking for; while you might discover that another store has it at a lower price. Additionally some stores may carry more music than others, or they may run different promotions. The same is true for online music “stores.” It’s important to be able to shop around to find the best music at the best price and take advantage of any sales or exclusive content that a particular service may have.

What I think is great about most of the new services available on Windows is that being built on Windows Media enables such amazing choice. For example, consumers can download music from a wide variety of music services, bring it into their media library in Windows Media Player, create playlists, and burn CDs with music aggregated from many different services. You can even transfer any or all of the music to a wide variety of portable devices. That is what Windows users love — being able to shop around and pick and choose the products and services that work best for them.

PressPass: You mentioned there are multiple portable music devices. Can you elaborate?

Fester: We are now at a point that consumers can buy a device that meets their needs and budget and works great with the new Windows Media-based music services. Over 40 devices from a variety of manufacturers are available today that support Windows Media Audio (WMA) that work with the music stores. With WMA playback support virtually everywhere, it means that consumers are now able to hop from store to store, download tracks, integrate them into playlists and move to their choice portable music devices. With WMA’s advanced compression it means that the music sounds great and you can pack more songs on your device. Even more, these music players come in all shapes, sizes, colors and prices — one to fit your lifestyle.

PressPass: Beyond devices, why does the technology matter?

Fester: The technology behind the existing music services is a critical part of the equation. The combination of high quality compression with digital rights management technology is making efficient and secure delivery of music possible. Under the hood, the leading music services today for Windows build their music services on the state-of-the-art media platform, Windows Media 9 Series. With a strong media foundation, this means that consumers will have the best quality audio and video playback. Take Napster, for example. They offer 30-second samples of all of their 500,000 tracks, and when a user plays the track, it immediately starts, thanks to the “Instant-On” technology in Windows Media 9 Series. The digital rights management (DRM) technology in Windows Media 9 Series enables music services to deliver samples, and let their customers send to a friend, burn CDs and transfer to portable devices in a very convenient way. For example, Windows Media DRM has also enabled Napster to offer a service that provides unlimited downloads for subscribers.

PressPass: We’ve heard that Apple will be launching a Windows-based version of iTunes. Do you see that as impacting Napster or other Windows-based services?

Fester: iTunes captured some early media interest with their store on the Mac, but I think the Windows platform will be a significant challenge for them. Unless Apple decides to make radical changes to their service model, a Windows-based version of iTunes will still remain a closed system, where iPod owners cannot access content from other services. Additionally, users of iTunes are limited to music from Apple’s Music Store. As I mentioned earlier, this is a drawback for Windows users, who expect choice in music services, choice in devices, and choice in music from a wide-variety of music services to burn to a CD or put on a portable device. Lastly, if you use Apple’s music store along with iTunes, you don’t have the ability of using the over 40 different Windows Media-compatible portable music devices. When I’m paying for music, I want to know that I have choices today and in the future.

PressPass: How do the current Windows-based services differ from iTunes?

Fester: As I mentioned, there are lots of choices in Windows music services. The service that offers consumers the most tracks and best experience will win the hearts and minds of consumers. If you look at Napster, it will launch as the world’s largest online service with over half a million tracks from all the major labels and hundreds of independents on October 29. Napster goes way beyond individual downloads, offering advanced services such as unlimited downloads, customized radio, shared playlists, music videos and more. Music fans can use dozens of devices with Napster, and can even enjoy this service in the convenience of their living room with a remote control and Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004.

All told, music fans should look for services that offer the best experience and take advantage of the best digital media platform available on Windows. With Windows Media 9 Series, you get faster starts, better quality music, and support for the most devices.

PressPass: What’s next for consumers?

Fester: I believe we are on the verge of seeing solutions that go far beyond just the digital download. We are seeing some of this already with Napster which is delivering an immersive music experience. Consumers are interested in what the artists are doing, what their friends are listening to, how they can share ideas, opinions and music samples. It’s an exciting time for consumers where digital music is finally delivering on the promise of music anywhere, anytime and on any device.

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