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Microsoft supporting Blue Laser? What about Blu-Ray? Err, maybe

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There’s something disingenuous about the announcement this week from Microsoft Japan that it will make Longhorn, the company’s next major operating system release, compatible with the High Definition blue laser DVD from NEC and Toshiba, which is also backed by the DVD Forum.

Since when was Longhorn written in Japan? And since when did an operating system company decide on support for a peripheral which will need its own dedicated drivers and which can be made almost plug compatible with the current DVD drives, as far as the operating system is concerned.

In our view it was a major non-announcement.

The competing Blu-Ray specification is already streets ahead of the NEC Toshiba standard, and it has already established support from Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which is far more significant than Microsoft, since they are the customers here and they will actually buy the drives. Microsoft is hardly likely to turn around to its two biggest customers and tell them, no the operating system won’t recognize their DVD devices.

Add to this the fact that Sony has announced it will make drives which will read both types of HD DVD, and this is turning more and more into political cowtowing, rather than anything concrete. Another thing that goes against the Longhorn announcement is that the war for the Blue Laser space will be over long before Longhorn ever comes to market (2009?) and by then Longhorn will want all the friends it can get. It will support every peripheral standard out or risk losing whatever market share Windows retains by then.

But there is yet more damning evidence. Microsoft recently signed up to be a founder member in the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Authority. This is developing an access control system for copy protection and DRM for the new pre-recorded material.

Also in the group is Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba. Panasonic and Sony both support the alternative Blu Ray standard, along with Philips. So Microsoft is clearly working as much, if not more, with Toshiba’s competitors in HD DVD, than with Toshiba itself.

Microsoft supposedly said, as it announced support for the HD DVD from Toshiba, that it was not yet decided whether Longhorn would support the rival Blu-ray technology from a consortium of companies.

It looks to us like Microsoft Japan was trying to keep its partners happy and didn’t really look too closely where its foot was when it opened its mouth.

Microsoft was attending a “love-in” for the Toshiba standard where it invited thousands of studio personnel from all over the world and managed to get just one Japanese studio to commit to the standard. The Toshiba camp has tried to give the impression it is catching up the six months lead time it has lost on the Blu-Ray team. Hollywood has yet to make any pronouncements except of course that the Sony owned Sony Pictures will support Blu-Ray.

© Copyright 2004 Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of events that have happened each week in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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