Microsoft Media Player-free Windows in Europe from January

Microsoft has lost its appeal to block antitrust sanctions, originally imposed by the European Commission (EC) in March this year.

Back then, along with a record-breaking near 500m Euro fine, the EC insisted that Microsoft should release two version of their Windows operating system, one without the media player built in and one without. The EC see Windows as the dominant computer operating system and want to try to ensure a more level playing field with the playback of digitally held audio and video. Some networking communication protocols were also opened up to compulsory licensing.

The ruling won’t be a surprise to Microsoft but an unhappy result all the same. When we spoke to senior European Microsoft people back in September, they felt this action was likely, but were spinning a line saying that two version of the OS would confuse the public.

It’s possible that the impact on the consumer may be close to zero. Philip Carnelley, research director with Ovum pointed out an interesting possible problem, “The way that part of the ruling was phrased doesn’t prohibit Microsoft from supplying Windows with Media Player at the same price as the version without, so there’s very little room for competition in the market place. If you can get something for free, why would you not take it?” The pricing issue was confirmed in a teleconference held with Microsoft general counsel, Brad Smith.

Smith revealed that company lawyers wanted to look more closely at the 90-page decision before deciding whether to appeal. Smith confirmed that Microsoft would begin complying with the decision immediately, with a version of Windows that doesn’t include Media Player software being made available to European PC manufacturers in January and to resellers by February. Outside of Europe they have no plans to offer a version of Windows without Media Player.

One long term worry for Microsoft could be that this ruling leaves it open for Europe able to question which extra bundled software could or should be included with Windows.

We’ve got a couple of question about the impact of this ruling:-

The Media player part of the ruling appears to only cover “Client PC’s” versions of Windows, not PDA’s or mobile phone version. We think the EC missed a trick here. If anything, the PDA or mobile player would be of more value to change, given its relative high market demand, than the less-than-furiously fought “Client PC’s” space. This oversight could be due to the age of the original legal action, instigated four years ago, when having media play back on a portable device wasn’t at the forefront of peoples minds.

It is not immediately obvious which media player company will benefit from the removal of Microsoft media player. The only major PC maker to currently install Apple’s QuickTime player is HP, following their iPod deal. As far as we’re aware, Real player doesn’t have deals with major computer maker. Perhaps given this ruling they will accelerate their efforts and other entrants will be stimulated to enter.

A confusing thought for you over the holiday period – will there be version of Windows Media Center Edition available Europe without Windows Media player! FYI – When we contacted the Microsoft team in Brussels said they didn’t think so.

Microsoft ruling, Court of First Instance Order on Interim Measures – Court of Justice of the European

Cellular Phone Emissions Damage DNA, Study Finds

A new study, majority-funded by the European Union, has found that in laboratory conditions, radio waves from mobile phones harm body cells and damage DNA, reports Reuters.

When tested in a laboratory, the cells showed a significant increase in single and double-strand DNA breaks after being exposed to electromagnetic fields that mobile phones emit. Some of the damage couldn’t be repaired and “there was remaining damage for future generation of cells,” said project leader Franz Adlkofer.

Despite what appears to us as being quite worrying information, the researchers said the study did not prove any health risks and suggested it “require further studies.” He recommended using a landline if available and an earpiece if using a mobile.

The cellular phone companies have always asserted that there is “no conclusive evidence of harmful effects as a result of electromagnetic radiation.”

Perhaps there’s nothing to worry about. The stock market certainly doesn’t appear to be concerned by the news, if Nokia’s stock is anything to go by.

I wonder if the mobile phone companies have taken out insurance in the case that mobile phones are proven harmful to human health? If so, wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what the value of coverage was?
Mobile Phone Radiation Harms DNA, New Study Finds – Reuters closed in MPAA, BitTorrent Action

For the last six months or so, the film industry has been gearing up to take on file-sharers exchanging video content online. The owners of the films are not very happy about people around the world freely swapping their content, and them not making any money about it.

The first legal actions were against individuals who were sharing films. Next they mounted their assault on BitTorrent, an application that can be used to download video content. Most recently they have passed their attention to sites that point users to content distributed using BitTorrent.

Their first move has been to take down the most popular of these, such as the self-described Universal Bit Torrent Source, and

The sites targeted do not contain the actual video files. Because of the way bitTorrent works, they simply contain a list of pointers to the content held in the bitTorrent format. The video files are themselves fragmented around the network of people running the bitTorrent application.

There are other sites, like TVTorrents, still continuing to make content accessible.

While BitTorrent, in and of itself, is not evil, the film companies are very putout that their films are travelling through it. BitTorrent also has legitimate uses. It is used to distribute many type of material. Digital Lifestyles has used it to distribute audio recordings in the past.

We hope that while pursuing their legal action to regain control of the distribution of their content, the film companies are also keeping their eyes open to the opportunities of this type of technology.

As we’ve commented previously, when video content, distributed over a shared network, is combined with a new content alert technology like RSS, the result is a blueprint for a form of TV delivery. Content automatically arrives at the viewer machine when it’s been published alowing them to chose which they will watch.


BT Wholesales 4m ADSL Connections

BT has, through its arrangement with over 150 broadband providers, delivery four million ADSL connections in the UK. This figure also includes connections sold directly to the public by BT Retail.

BT say they are connecting a new customer every 10 seconds, equating to an average of nearly 60,000 new connections each week.

The last million milestone was only back in August 2004 when three million connections were announced. A million new connections in one quarter is pretty good.

Currently there isn’t really any competition for BT Wholesale, although some companies are starting to make early moves with specialist services like UK Online.

We see this as another in the long running back and forth between BT and OFCOM. BT tells the press “No BT would equal No Broadband” (as Christopher Bland did to the Telegraph), OFCOM tells them to trim their prices. Is their any co-incidence that BT issued this news on the heals of OFCOM ordering BT to cut the cost of third party access to the customer, opening the market for strong competition for BT Wholesale?. As the Guardian commented

At the moment BT is the gatekeeper to all but 16,000 of the UK’s 25m phone lines, and charges for access to them. The telecoms operator suffered a blow six months ago when it was forced to lower the prices it charges for access to its network. Ofcom is aiming to get a system in place next year that will see 1 million lines unbundled a year.

Will BT continue to be so strong with meaningful competition?

Podcasting Primed, BBC Radio MP3 download success

BBC Radio has for the last month been making some of its radio show available for MP3 download. Is this news? Well yes, previously they’ve always streamed their content, so you had to by your computer to receive it. With downloads you’ve been able to take it with you.

It actually started with this years The Reith Lectures, which over the ten weeks it was available, had around 50,000 downloads. It has now grown considerably to the point where Melvyn Braggs show, In Our Time, had 70,000 downloads in November. The weekly BBC Radio 4 show was available to download for seven days after broadcast. Not only is it downloadable, but it’s also available as a Podcast. If you’re not sure what a Podcast is, you should read on. Digital Lifestyles was told by the BBC on Friday that in November, there were 100,000 hits on their Podcast (RSS) file for In Our Time.

As regular readers of Digital Lifestyles will know, we are big believers in what we see as the effective rebirth of radio – the delivery of audio pieces over the Internet for playback on people’s portable music players. Over the last few months this hard-to-encapsulate idea has happily gained the moniker, ‘Podcasting’, but don’t be fooled by the iPod reference, this is for all music players.

Strictly speaking Podcasting is slightly more than just the Internet delivery of the material, it’s also about automating the process. By using an application like the open source, iPodder, listeners simply select the Podcasters their interested hearing from and the content is automatically gathered for them. This apparent magic is achieved by combining a couple of already existing technologies, RSS and FTP. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has until now mostly be used to gather news updates but hidden in its specification is the ability to point to enclosures, in this case MP3 audio files. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is then used to download the sound files to computer. All of this happens without the listens involvement.

Simon Nelson, Controller of BBC Radio & Music Interactive is clearly excited about it: “We’ve been surprised and delighted by the demand for downloads of what is one of our most challenging programmes; it demonstrates the public’s appetite for new ways of listening. Of course we recognise that we can’t offer all programmes in this way but we look forward to working with rights holders to explore ways we could learn from developments like this to drive radio listening forward.”

These ideas have been bubbling around the blog world and it just starting to hit the main stream. The impact of this form of distribution will be significant. The barriers to anyone having their own radio station are removed. Of course, any form of enclosure can be catered for, including video. Beware broadcast TV, look out TiVo.

BBC Radio 4, In our Time
BBC Radio 4, In our Time – Podcast

RAJAR defeat TWG Audience Court Case

RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research), the organisation that monitors UK radio audience size and listening habits, has defeated a case against them brought by The Wireless Group (TWG).

Kelvin MacKenzie’s TWG launched the case back in March, claiming £66m in compensation for lost advertising revenues. TWG’s case came from the frustration at the alleged inaccuracy of the paper diary methods, and results of RAJAR audience monitoring. They felt the RAJAR figures for the their TalkSPORT radio station were not representative and this in turn left TWG’s advertising under-valued.

TWG claimed RAJAR has abused competition laws when it decided against the immediate introduction of audiometers in June 2003, which they felt would give a more accurate, and therefore better, audience numbers for them.

Today’s judgment was handed down after a two-day High Court hearing in early November 2004. RAJAR’s application to strike out the claim brought by The Wireless Group (TWG) in March of this year was upheld. Mr Justice Lloyd ruled that TWG’s description of RAJAR’s decision in June 2003 “does not match the reality of the case”.

MacKenzie’s response? “RAJAR may have won a legal skirmish, but the war goes on until technology-based audience measurement is adopted”.

RAJAR current method of understanding listener’s habits uses a paper diary system distributed to a listener panel. It is widely thought that this measuring method, while giving broad habits, does not account well for smaller stations – measuring widespread niche audience is challenging.

To address this RAJAR has also set a target date for the introduction of a new audience measurement methodology, potentially including audiometers, of January 2007.

Digital Lifestyles attended their extensive testing of three competing audiometers back in a November. RAJAR had taken over the whole floor of a London hotel, setting up different situations where people might be listening to such as with the TV on; another music source playing; a shower on. Each scenario would be gone through in strict rotation and at set times, the testers would flood into the halls ways to locate their next room for testing. It was clearly comprehensive and was the largest trial carried out to date.

All eyes of radio audience measuring authorities from around the world are on RAJAR, awaiting the results.


Creative Archive Gathers English MP support

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the UK House of Commons today released the first volume of its report, “A public BBC.” The committee, made up of eleven cross party Members of Parliament (MP), has taken evidence both written and through expert witness panels going back as far as May 2004.

The 87-page tome contains a lot of interesting and insightful comments from the MPs which are going to take a while to digest. One of the manageable chunks is on the Creative Archive and being long term supporters of it, it drew our eye.

The support from the MPs appears strong, but there’s few items that cause us confusion bordering on concern like the executive summary

7. We strongly welcome the BBC’s proposals for a Creative Archive, and agree that access to this should be free for non-commercial applications. We look to the Corporation to develop, in cooperation with intellectual property owners, innovative solutions that appropriately balance the interests of rights holders with those of the wider public. Digital rights management is a key issue in the modern media environment, and we recommend the DCMS establish a forum for assessing its implications.

We’re slightly confused as to why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is being mentioned in the same paragraph as the Creative Archive. Are these separate items that have just been mentioned in the same paragraph or is their suggestion that the Creative Archive material has DRM applied to it? One of the central ideals of the Creative Archive is the ability for the UK public to load the downloaded content into their video editing packages and create new content. How is this to be achieved if DRM is applied to the content?

Much of this may become clearer when the BBC starts a trial of the Creative Archive in January 2005 as re-announced on 24.Nov.04 by Mark Thompson, Director-General, BBC.

We’re going to be doing some more digging tomorrow to try and get some clarity on this.

Details of material about the Creative Archive

62. In Building public value, the BBC commits to launching a Creative Archive, providing “free access to BBC content for learning, for creativity, for pleasure.” The BBC’s ambition is that, starting with factual material, online access for non-commercial applications will eventually extend across all areas of its output.

63. The Electronic Frontier Foundation espouses the benefits that will accompany the establishment of the BBC’s Creative Archive, and supports its becoming a core element of BBC services. Ultimately, this could comprise the whole of the BBC’s extant archive of radio and television programming, placed online under a licence that permits non-commercial distribution and re-use of this material by “remixers”. This open licensing system is similar to that deployed by the Creative Commons initiative, a system of “some rights reserved” copyright. And it is possible that, by enabling non-commercial exploitation, there is created “a gigantic and clever series of advertisements for the commercial rights” associated with the works.

64. The Creative Archive brings to the fore what Professor John Naughton termed the “maniacal obsession” with intellectual property. In his view, the copyright industries “see digital technology as an unprecedented opportunity to extend control over how copyrighted material can be used to a degree that was inconceivable in an analogue world.”

65. In written evidence, the Music Business Forum expressed concerns that such initiatives should not be allowed to “ride rough shod over the copyrights and performers’ rights of those who contribute to BBC programmes”. There had to be provision for rights holders to be paid for the additional use of their work through access to archives. This should be the case whether in the form of repeat broadcasting fees, extensions of the collective bargaining agreements in place for the payments of revenue for secondary uses, or through the negotiation of clearance for the right to exercise new rights on individually negotiated commercial terms. The BBC ought to consider the case for the implementation of encryption and digital rights management applications in order to counter growing piracy – whether via internet or personal video recorder downloads. The MBF is concerned that while this is available free and unpoliced, commercial download services will be unable to compete and artists, writers and the other creators will have no means of getting paid. “The BBC, as a publicly-funded organisation, has a responsibility to be seen at every opportunity to be upholding the systems of rights that operate in the UK, not least to act as an example to others. The licence fee does not of itself authorise licence fee holders to the free use of BBC output in whatever way they wish.”

66. We strongly welcome the BBC’s proposals for a Creative Archive, and agree that access to this should be free for non-commercial applications. We look to the Corporation to develop, in cooperation with intellectual property owners, innovative solutions that appropriately balance the interests of rights holders with those of the wider public. Digital rights management is a key issue in the modern media environment, and we recommend the DCMS establish a forum for assessing its implications.

Culture, Media and Sport Committee report, “A public BBC”

Apple iTunes passes 200m tracks – And?

OK … Apple has had over 200m tracks paid for and downloaded on Apple iTMS. Yes, it’s been a success, but now it’s getting a bit like the passing of time. You don’t often hear, Hold the front page, it’s December … we must tell the world.

Do you know what? The download was part of “The Complete U2″. How very fortunate for the recent US/Apple iPod deal. Did they have a little piece of code running on the server that selected what that 200mth track would be?

Oh and the other thing. Apple aren’t announcing when this occurred … just the fact that it has happened.

We’re nearly sure that the timing of this announcement has nothing to do with Christmas being next week, but Apple also very helpfully point out that the iTunes gift vouchers make ideal xmas presents.

So what’s the next landmark? We’re running sweepstakes on whether it’ll be the quarter billion, 300m, or half billion. Our recommendation? Don’t bother until it gets to 1 billion.

Nintendo DS Media Adaptor soon

Soon Japanese owners of the Nintendo DS (Dual Screen), their latest handheld console, and GameBoy Advance SP will be able to play music and video with a new adaptor on their pocket marvels.

It’ll be available from February and costs 5000 yen (~$48, ~€36, ~£24). But non-Japan dwellers shouldn’t get too excited, Nintendo are saying that they don’t have any current plans to sell it outside Japan.

The DS has sold well and Nintendo hope to sell 2.5m DS’s by the end of 2004.

The reasoning for the adaptor is paper-thin. Sony’s PSP (PlayStation Portable) became available to buy in Japan last Saturday, and guess what? It has these features too.

Nintendo may hit problems when potential purchasers compare the two; there will be no difference in price between buying just the PSP vs. the DS & its media adaptor; it’s likely that when put together the DS bundle will be more bulky than the PSP alone.

BlackBerry Patent Case Swings Away from RIM to NTP

There will be furrowed brows over at Research in Motion Ltd (RIM), the Canadian company behind the ever-popular wireless email device, BlackBerry.

The US Court of Appeals has just ruled against them in a case brought by intellectual property holding company NTP Inc, that alleged RIM have violated patents owned by NTP that cover the transmission of email over a radio network.

The only slight cause for relief for RIM will come from the court ruling that they will be able to continue selling their products until final judgement is reached.

The history of the case goes back to 2000 when NTP first notified RIM of the alleged infringement. In a series of cases since then, the case has been batted between the two of them and over the period, the courts have ordered RIM to pay over $70m to NTP.

Back in November 2002, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ordered re-examinations of all NTP patents litigated in this matter.

Although this ruling only has jurisdiction in the USA, it is unclear if there will be any impact on RIM’s deals with non-US mobile operators. RIM has done deals with a number of operators around the world, the product of which have now made it to market. One example, being two months ago Vodafone UK launched the 7100v that has BlackBerry functionality built into a more compressed form.

Research In Motion