You thought Windows XP and Microsoft Office were jungles of point and click, click, click…? Wait until you try out the Microsoft Music Store. Make sure your will and insurance papers are up to date. You’ll spend much of the day jumping through hoops.
One of the more impressive aspects of being “in media” is the preponderance of media pundits who are certain “A” is going to happen and say so from their high in the sky soapbox. Of course, when “B” happens, they’re nowhere to be found, off on some other tangent.
Common media wisdom recently has been that Microsoft will crush Apple and the iTunes Music Store.
First, try out Microsoft’s Music Store, then do the same with Apple’s iTunes Music Store (we’ll save discussion of Apple’s trio – iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store – for another time). Then compare the experience.
It’s the year 2004 and “minimalist” is the new catch-phrase for the decade. If iPod epitomizes minimalist, then Microsoft remains firmly entrenched at the other end of the spectrum, regardless of this flirtation with simple.
To try out Microsoft’s Music Store beta, Click Here.
Here’s my experience. Your mileage may vary.
You’ll be greeted with the absolute simplest of all web pages from Microsoft. Don’t be fooled. There’s plenty of complexity under that Fisher-Price skin.
As you might suspect, registering to use the Music Store will cost you more than a few minutes. In the end, after coughing up your credit card, personal information, another LoginID and Password, then downloading some cool ActiveX stuff for Windows XP SP2, you’ll find yourself a member of the .NET Passport Club.
These are the steps:
1 – Credit Card and Personal Information
2 – Agreements (more clicks)
3 – Download Music Assistant (appears to be an ActiveX app)
4 – Install ActiveX Control
5 – Click through 3 Security Warnings (hmmmm)
6 – Go to Control Panel for Persona Info
7 – Download Windows Media Player (technical beta)
Once you’ve gone through those hoops you’ll find that there’s no “real” application like iTunes or the embedded iTunes Music Store.
Windows Media Player will play music when it’s downloaded. Internet Explorer acts as the “doorway” to the Music Store. ActiveX lets the browser do the heavy lifting, so the whole experience is embedded in a web page.
And what a web page it is. This is Microsoft’s version of Fisher-Price simplicity for music lovers. If it looks like a web page, feels like a web page, clicks like a web page, maybe it’s a web page. Or not.
The “Music Store” web page allows you to search for artist or song, displays a number of basic categories to appeal to the average CD purchaser (I have nearly 3,000 songs on my iPod, but I’m not average). You may also choose Genre (how many know what that means? It’s on iTMS, too).
The overall layout is very simple. Song Title, Album Title, Artist, Rating, and Price headings at the top. A small “arrow in a circle” button signifies the “play” button so you can preview the song.
Overall, downloading and playing over broadband is about the same as with iTMS. The preview button spins and turns green during the song preview.
When you click the “Buy $0.99” button, it also turns green and says “Confirm.” Once you click confirm, ActiveX takes over and sends the button to the Download Page.
The Download Page lists all your downloads, the status, and how much time is remaining on the current songs download.
Oh, did I mention, that’s it?
Of course not. But that’s it. There’s not much else going on. There’s no charts, no top songs, no essentials, or celebrity playlists. There’s no music videos. There’s also not much music. How can you tell? Do some searches for music you know is on iTMS.
I did two searches just to see the differences. For example, sax dude Dave Koz; I’ve purchased a number of his recordings from iTMS which lists 87 different songs. There’s only 25 listed on the Microsoft Music Store.
That disparity is noticed right away. Brook Benton has 81 songs on iTMS but only 22 on Microsoft’s Music Store.
The overall experience is cumbersome but not as rag tag as the Sony Store, or Napster, and much easier than RealNetworks’ Music Store. Much.
Microsoft Media Player 10 is a “technical beta” for now. It’s been overhauled and is simpler to operate than 9.0. Interestingly, you can also browse, purchase, and download music from Napster, MusicNow, and CinemaNow. Well, you could if it worked. It didn’t.
Remember, this is “beta.”
I’m running Media Player on a Sony Vaio with Windows XP Home SP2.
Microsoft’s approach is decidedly un-Redmondian in nature. Simple. If you could stuff all of the iTunes Music Store into a web browser, have Fisher-Price do the layout and design, it would be Microsoft’s Music Store beta site.
It’s also easy to see why Microsoft is “soft” pedaling the launch of the Music Store. Where was Apple’s “beta” of iTunes? Where was Apple’s beta of iTunes Music Store? Uh uh. Apple did it right out of the gate, kept up the pressure and improved the products and the overall experience at every turn.
Microsoft is soft pedaling with a beta site because they can’t afford another flop. Only Windows and Office make real money these days. Billions of dollars have been lost on Xbox and other ventures. Longhorn is now shorthorn (“It’s what’s for dinner” for Mac OS X Tiger).
The store can’t be a flop so they’re setting the expectations bar very low in Microsoft-land these days.
It’s a simple approach, a simple interface, a simple store. Will it work? Will Microsoft be able to take market share and media buzz away from Apple’s “experience” of iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store?
Would you play poker with Steve Jobs? Once Microsoft commits, plays its hand, and launches the full-on media blitz, then you’ll see iTunes 5.0, and, as Paul Harvey is fond of saying, “The rest of the story” from Apple.
I’m not alone in my view of MSMS (Microsoft’s Music Store). Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal shares similar thoughts:
I haven’t tried to move the songs over to my iPod yet. I’ll get to it. In the meantime, if you’d like a pundit’s view of how Microsoft’s Music Store will crush Apple, Click Here.