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MS backs away from media copy restrictions

Learns what people don't want after designing it

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Numerous studies have confirmed for Microsoft what any fool knows: people are not much interested in a home-entertainment device masquerading as a computer that burns special mission-impossible DVDs which can't be played on any device other than the specific machine which recorded them.

Unfortunately, that's just how MS designed its new Windows Media Center PCs, apparently in hopes of pleasing the entertainment industry, which considers listening to or viewing its products to be a criminal act in all but the most rigidly-controlled, preferably supervised, situations.

Thank heaven for analysts. Only weeks before its new Windows Media Center PCs are scheduled for rollout MS has taken stock of consumer interest and decided that DVDs probably ought to be portable. Maybe it's the size of the disks that tipped them off. Unfortunately there isn't time to make them compatible with garden-variety DVD players: that will come some time down the road. But at least they'll play on any Windows machine with a Media 9 player, which is something, anyway.

The Media Center PC is something of a Swiss Army knife concept meant for environments where space is at a premium. It combines the PC with replacements for the stereo, radio, television set and DVD player. It can record TV broadcasts to the HDD for later retrieval (DVR). MS is targeting the 'youth' market with this toy, no doubt with crowded dormitory rooms in mind. Which of course makes one wonder why the rollout wasn't scheduled for August to capitalize on the back-to-school retail rush. But the X-Box came out for Christmas and did fairly well, so perhaps that influenced their decision. (Only this isn't a $199 game console; but then what do I know about retail?)

If the Christmas-season rollout is an obstacle to firestorms of consumer demand, certainly the fact that one must buy an entire new PC is another. One can't simply install the operating system on an existing machine, pop in a couple of peripherals and go. HP is making the boxes, which will cost between $1000 and $2000 (monitor not included). At least it won't be utterly crippled with copy-protections from Hell; but it's still fairly crippled until it can record a DVD which can be used in a standard player.

Somehow I just don't see people lining up in the snow for hours to get their hands on one of these puppies. But then what do I know about retail? ®

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