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May 18, 2007

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Doug Lay

Your description of playing devices and content objects seems a little outdated. Nowadays, pretty much every content object is a stream of bits, and pretty much every playing device is just another stream of bits hooked up to general-purpose audio/video playback equipment. In such an environment, keeping a system closed seems like a fools' errand.

Ben Foster

I think it is unfair to say that his description is outdated, at least in any particularly important way. While it is true that most content is just a stream of bits, and hypothetically it is convertible into a stream of bits a particular play-back mechanism can understand, in practice, encoding schemes continue to result in essentially closed systems. Conversion is difficult and outside the technical skill of most end users, just try playing a song you downloaded from iTunes (.acc) on your new Microsoft Zune.

Doug Lay

Ben:

I don't own a Zune, but I convert all the AAC files my wife buys into MP3 (an open format), and it's trivially easy. The average user doesn't need to have the skill to do the conversion themselves - they just need access to a conversion utility of some sort. In a networked digital environment these are usually pretty easy to come by, even in regimes where the law attempts to retard technogical progress by imposing anti-circumvention provisions.

Ben Foster

I overstated things. However, I think you give people a bit too much credit by referring to the process as trivially easy. Conversion requires a knowledge of what format your music is in, and what format you need to covert it to. It also requires enough searching skill to locate a conversation utility for your operating system. I think that there are plenty of users out there who would have trouble putting these pieces together without guidance, additionally there are other people who are completely unaware that such conversation is possible.

As long as a company erects barriers "closing", if only temporarily their system they can potentially reap huge economic rewards. This formula seems uncertain at best, it doesn't seem to be working out for Toshiba's HD DVD, or really for anyone besides apple in the online music business. Still this creation of barriers does seem to concentrate users to a particular system which can be very advantageous for that system's company.

You are right that the network breaks down digitally closed systems, but that doesn't seem to eliminate the potential benefit a company can gain from constructing the system in the first place.

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