Pushing the Broken Car of Windows Media

There’s an episode of Married… With Children in which Al Bundy ends up pushing a succession of cars home from work because they keep breaking down. At one point, his son points out that it would make more sense for him to simply walk to and from work, but his daughter protests, “That’s too far for Daddy to go without a car.”

I thought of that when Amazon launched its bizarrely named Unbox service last week. The opening night reviews suggest that this particular play won’t have a very long run, primarily because it’s built on a Windows Media platform. That means that the videos can only be played on a television if that television is connected to a computer running Windows XP (something that all but the most desperate consumers are unlikely to attempt), and that the videos can only be played on certain portable devices, none of which are the iPod.

So why did Amazon choose to build this service on Windows Media? The simple answer is DRM. Amazon and its suppliers are unwilling to make the videos available without the ability to restrict the consumers’ ability to copy and transfer them, which means that the videos can only be played on devices that implement the DRM scheme that Amazon uses (which are currently limited to certain computers running Windows XP and certain portable devices that support Windows Media, and do not include DVD players or iPods). Unfortunately for Amazon and their suppliers, the Windows Media DRM seems to have been cracked, even before Unbox was launched. Amazon is left pushing around all of the dead weight of the Windows Media platform without getting the one benefit it promises.

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