Open Microsoft, closed Apple
Microsoft’s new Xbox Music service, being launched next week to coincide with the release of Windows 8, shows just how much the software maker is turning its business model on its head and embracing rival platforms as it steps up its war with Apple. By Craig Wilson.
What the heck is going on? Microsoft, famous for developing products for its platforms only, has suddenly become a leading advocate of openness.
Office, its productivity suite, for example, will be available early next year for Apple’s iPad and for devices powered by Google’s Android operating system. The company has also been playing particularly nicely with the open-source community in recent years, a remarkable change in approach given that just 10 years ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described the software licence that governs Linux as a “cancer”.
Now, in another example of how the software giant is changing its spots, it’s announced that its Xbox Music service — which is coming to 22 markets next week in time for the Windows 8 launch — will not only work on Windows PCs, tablets and smartphones but also on devices powered by Android and Apple’s iOS. (The non-Windows apps are in development and don’t have a release date yet.)
With Xbox Music, Microsoft, in some respects, is showing itself to be much more open, dynamic and forward-looking than Apple, which has long preferred the “walled garden” approach to technology.
Exciting news for SA consumers is that the Xbox Music service is coming to local shores. It’s not yet clear whether other Microsoft online content, including movies and television shows, will be offered in SA.
The music service will offer as many as 30m tracks. Streaming models are new to SA, with only the recently launched Simfy and Nokia Mix Radio offerings providing alternatives. The Nokia product is available only on its Lumia handsets.
Xbox Music is intended as a one-stop shop, whether it’s for advertising-supported or subscription-based streaming, or for downloads. Apple, for a change, is going to be playing catch-up. The company has been reluctant to launch a streaming product, possibly for fear of cannibalising its highly lucrative iTunes music downloads business. Even if it does eventually jump on the streaming bandwagon — its hand forced by Microsoft — will it be able to match its rival’s newfound openness?
Though Microsoft is eager to sell hardware products — and it’s signalled its intention to become more of a player in the hardware space with its new Surface tablets designed with Windows 8 in mind — that’s still not its core business. Like Apple did when it eventually made iTunes available to Windows users in 2003, Microsoft appears to have realised that trying to tie people to a particular platform is a loser’s game.
Over in Cupertino, Apple seems to be moving in the opposite direction. By giving Google Maps the boot from iOS and not opening its services to users of non-Apple devices, the company is raising the walls around its technology garden even further.
Microsoft is taking a bet that the hardware it does build will be so compelling it will win over consumers, even as it makes its services available on rival platforms.
In many instances, Apple already makes market-leading hardware, so why is it apparently so afraid of letting users of rival platforms play in its world? Developing iTunes for Windows was necessary to sell iPods in huge volumes, but the digital music player also served as a great advertisement for Apple’s other products. Consumers tend to follow companies that are able to convince rather than cajole.
Perhaps that’s a lesson Microsoft has taken to heart. — © 2012 NewsCentral Media