Digital Imagine Cup – Be sure not to tell anyone

Digital: Imagine CupOn balance, the world is probably a better place with Microsoft, than it would be if Bill Gates hadn’t succeeded. But this week, the company is trying to get us to admit something different: that it is an innovative presence in the world, encouraging innovation in others. Specifically, it is running the Imagine Cup, and this week, in the UK, it’s judging 50 students who have entered a programming competition.

Click on the streaming video link and you’ll see why I’m sceptical about this.

Digital: Imagine CupThe content is fine! It goes on fairly meaninglessly with an animated techno-rabbit running around and flying; and then launches the theme.

As you’d expect from Microsoft, the theme is laudable. Praiseworthy, even: it’s “Imagine a world where technology enables us to live healthier lives.” Well, duh… but how about “imagine a world where I can watch the promo without waiting for the buffer to fill up?” or “imagine a world where I can watch the promo without it stopping and starting and re-buffering?” or even “imagine being able to download this promo and send it to a friend”?

Microsoft’s technology for the Imagine Cup promo is a streaming video technology. Look closely at the link: it’s a standard WMV media file, right? Wrong! – it’s actually a link to a WVX file. And instead of being HTTP:// the file is actually MMS:// – which means, quite simply, you can’t download it.

Digital: Imagine CupSo naturally, I asked MS why. I got their local expert, and asked: “Why on earth would you copy-protect a promotional video? Surely, the idea is that people mail it around, and it generates viral marketing traction, like the German Coastguard?”

Apparently, the reason it’s not downloadable has nothing to do with copy protection. It’s “because it’s too long,” my expert assured me.

He explained: “We have a policy on web sites, that only short multimedia clips can be downloaded, because of the problems for modem users.”

Digital: Imagine CupAs excuses go, that is such clear nonsense that I didn’t know what to say. If you have a modem link, you certainly can’t stream a WMV file. I couldn’t stream it with a 10megabit Telewest cable modem! And in any case, both the clips on that page are short! – one is two minutes, and that’s the long one. The other is 30 seconds.

Also, it’s exactly the opposite of what you want. It’s a long file that you need to download, because the longer the file, the more risk there is of network congestion.

So, in order to save you from the problem in the first place, can I point you at SDP Multimedia? The SDP utility will take the streamed video, and save it onto your disk as a WMV file, and you can then send it off to your friends.

As for the Imagine Cup, you’re too late to apply for the software competition. The UK heat is run on Friday 10th this week in Reading. But you’re free to apply for the short film section, or any of the other categories.