Microsoft has declared “war” on the MP3 format, according to the “In Box” news and analysis column on the
Salon Web site. And Real Networks and other companies may also throw a monkey wrench into the works.
The column said that last Thursday, Microsoft “announced rather blithely that it had decided to take down the MP3 format.” Windows XP, the next version of the Windows operating system, will degrade the quality of MP3 encoding, according to Salon. The OS will prevent its built-in software from recording MP3 files at fidelity rates higher than 56 kilobits per second.
“In other words, if you stick your CD in the CD-ROM drive and use the built-in XP software to rip your own music into an MP3 file, the resulting files will sound murky and low-quality,” the article said. “Meanwhile, if you rip that same CD into the Windows Media Player (WMA) format it will — surprise, surprise! — sound terrific and file sizes will be smaller. (You can still download non-Microsoft software and use that to rip your MP3 files, but — surprise, surprise! — non-Microsoft software won’t perform well on the Windows XP operating system.)”
Salon’s take is that Microsoft is screwing around with the quality of the MP3 format in order to promote its own competing music format. And, given the dominance of the Windows OS, it will probably succeed, the column said.
“And the record industry, which prefers the secure WMA software to the easily copied MP3 format, is happy to join Microsoft’s bandwagon,” Salon added.
ZDNet article, it said that music recorded in Windows Media Audio, will sound clearer and require far less storage space on a computer under Windows XP.
“We think at the end of the day, consumers don’t really care what format they [record] in,” Dave Fester, a general manager in Microsoft’s Digital Media Division, told ZDNet News. He added that despite the new restrictions, Microsoft will make sure its software does “a great job of making sure our player will play back MP3, or put it on a CD.” But for new content that users might want to create, he says there “are clear advantages” to not using MP3.
Microsoft said its decision not to include built-in support for recording better-sounding MP3 music also avoids it having to pay license fees required by Thomson Multimedia SA and the Fraunhofer Institut. They collect at least US$2.50 from software vendors for each copy of recording software based on their MP3 technology.
Meanwhile, RealNetworks of Seattle is encouraging consumers to use proprietary software formats, such as its Real Audio 8, though RealNetworks’ listening software can accommodate a variety of different formats, including MP3 and Microsoft’s,
according to ZDNet. Other formats gaining popularity are based on the relatively new Advanced Audio Codec created by AT&T, Dolby Laboratories, Sonyn, and the Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen in Germany.
So why are these tech giants dumping on the MP3 format? All the new music-software formats include technology known as digital-rights management, which can “lock” copyright-protected songs and make it harder for consumers to share that music illegally, according to ZDNet. As the largest recording labels begin selling music online, they generally have shunned MP3, which “has been commonly regarded as an unprotected format,” Cary Sherman, senior vice president and general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in the article.
“The industry doesn’t want [MP3] pushed, and Microsoft and RealNetworks don’t want it pushed,” David Farber, the former chief technologist at the Federal Communications Commission, is quoted as saying. “The consumer is going to eat what he’s given.”
(Thanks to MacCentral Matt Gilbert reader for the heads-up on these articles.)