Microsoft-Universal deal

Some people are upset about the Microsoft-Universal deal that gives Universal $1 for each Zune sold. Some are calling for a boycott. The controversy stems from the reasoning behind the deal. Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal Music Group, has been quoted saying:

These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it. So it’s time to get paid for it.

If you don’t like being accused of being a thief, you should obviously buy an iPod instead of a Zune.

This sticker is present on every iPod sold:

iPod - Don't steal music

For comparison, the Zune sticker:

Zune - Let's get started

Hey, wait a minute… Let’s get started doing WHAT?


The amount of Zune FUD is reaching staggering proportions following Microsoft’s Zune launch.

C.W. Nevius has a blog post over at the S.F. Chronicle titled “Zune Reinforces Microsoft’s Dorky Image“. Nevius links to TechTree that claims:

For starters, in order to download the Zune software, a user’s system has to meet certain requirements; namely, Win XP SP2, processor running at minimum 1.5GHz, and so on. By comparison, Apple Computer’s iTunes 7 software does not have any such hardware requirements.

Actually, the CPU requirement for the Zune software is 500 MHz, just like for the iTunes software. The 1.5 GHz Zune requirement is only for video playback.

TechTree also claims:

Also, to download the Zune software, users’ need to use only Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7). The software cannot be downloaded by using Mozilla’s Firefox for instance.

Actually, the software downloads just fine with Firefox.

The Mac zealots will have you believe that the Zune is no threat to Apple. If they really believe that, why do they resort to FUD?

Another example is Andy Ihnatko in an article titled “Avoid the loony Zune” for the Chicago Sun-Times:

You’ll find that the Zune Planet orbits the music industry’s Bizarro World, where users aren’t allowed to do anything that isn’t in the industry’s direct interests.

The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity.

Companies such as Toshiba and Sandisk (with its wonderful Nano-like Sansa e200 series) compete effectively with the iPod by asking themselves, “What are the things that users want and Apple refuses to provide?”

Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place.

Mr. Ihnatko would have you believe that Apple listens to the user’s needs, while Microsoft listens to the music industry’s needs. Yet the Zune lets you sync non-DRM’ed music back to your computer and the iPod doesn’t (the iPod only allows you to sync DRM’ed music back). From ExtremeTech’s Zune review:

Reverse Sync: Just as it is with Media Player 11, getting songs off your Zune is a snap. When you select your Zune on the left side of the player, you can browse the content that’s on it by artist, genre, etc. Not many people notice this, but the right-hand sync pane will now say “drag items here to create a list to sync from [Zune Name] to your computer.” Just drag whatever tracks, albums, or artists you want to dump from your Zune to your PC media library, hit Sync, and you’re golden. Simple. The hoops you have to jump through to get music off your iPod look silly by comparison.

Imagine that! Microsoft providing users with a feature that Apple refuses to provide. Not that a Mac zealot will ever admit to any such thing.

The Zune definitely has its drawbacks: software installation takes way too long (hopefully fixed in the next version, there’s no reason why it should take so long), hard drive access not enabled by default, misleading points system for purchasing songs, lack of MacOS X and Linux support, etc. However, when a reviewer fails to say anything good about the Zune, such as noting the sync files back to computer feature, it’s obvious that the reviewer has been exposed to the Reality Distortion Field for way too long. From Wikipedia:

RDF is the idea that Steve Jobs is able to convince people to believe almost anything with a skillful mix of charm, charisma, slight exaggeration, and clever marketing.

More gadgets for sale

I am moving to a new apartment so I’m cleaning out old stuff. The following is for sale to anyone in San Francisco:

I am also selling a 7 day old 1.83GHz MacBook. Used for testing. Original box. $1120.

Update: The MacBook and the webcam have been sold.

Arstechnica on hacking DRM

Arstechnica has published an article called “Hacking Digital Rights Management” that mentions some of my work.

QTFairUse would not be the program to bring unencumbered iTunes downloads to the mainstream user, but it did represent one possible line of attack. Another approach was provided by playfair, a little program capable of stripping the DRM from iTunes files.

In retrospect, releasing QTFairUse was a mistake. In winter 2003 I did two things:

1. Released QTFairUse
2. Reverse engineered FairPlay and added support to the VideoLAN Client for playing FairPlay files. The tools m4p2mp4, playfair and hymn all use the VideoLAN FairPlay code.

For some reason a lot of people think I only did the first. I guess keeping two facts in your head at the same time is hard.

QTFairUse relied on Apple’s software to decrypt the protected song files and then grabbed the unencrypted music from RAM. It then wrote this data to an unencrypted AAC file that turned out not be readable by most music players.

QTFairUse was aimed at a technical audience and as such I did not include documentation for normal users. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Many non-technical users, not knowing the difference between a raw AAC file (extension .aac) and a MPEG4 AAC file (extension .mp4 or .m4a), claimed that QTFairUse did not work after they had tried to play an .aac file in an audio player that doesn’t support .aac files.

Note: the Arstechnica journalist wanted to interview me for the article but I was busy moving to SF at the time so I declined.

Apple’s copyright agent

Apple recently sent a frivolous copyright complaint to Something Awful by email. Apple has a history of using their copyright agent to send out frivolous complaints (e.g. when they tried to get FairPlay support removed from VLC). If a company has a complaint that is even remotely legitimate, they’ll have an actual lawyer send you a cease and desist letter by postal mail.

Gadgets for sale

Nokia 770I am selling the following items. If you live in downtown San Francisco I will personally deliver the item(s) to you.

  • Nokia 770: Used for 6 weeks. This unit is very special as it has been touched by the iCEO! (oh, and me, but I’m not quite at his level of fame). Runs Linux and is very hackable. $300.
  • 3G iPod 40GB: Used for 2.5 years. Own a piece of DRM history! This is the iPod I used when I reverse engineered FairPlay in winter 2003/2004. Battery needs replacing as it doesn’t last very long anymore. $150.
  • Firewire PCMCIA card: Nothing exotic here. Used only for a few days. $10 with purchase of any item above $50.
  • AUDIOTRAK OPTOPlay: Used for a few months. $30 with purchase of any item above $50.

Update: The Nokia 770 and the iPod have been sold.