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The Two Faces of Janus

So, what needs to happen? Well, I want to rent any music and listen to it in any order I choose and move it to my MP3 player so that I can listen to my music where I want.

Microsoft thinks it has the answer for us. You don't need to read the writing on the wall to see that Microsoft is terrified about Apple's success with the iPod. Almost all its recent rhetoric has been to lambast the iPod. Just recently, Microsoft released a check sheet you should use when looking for an MP3 Player (read: don't buy the iPod, buy anything else), and even Bill Gates stated that the cell phone will eclipse the iPod as tool for listening to music. To this end, Microsoft wants you to rent music. The music you rent will be only a penny or two a track, as opposed to 99 cents for owning a track from iTunes. You will also be able to listen to your music on your MP3 player on the go as well as through your computer. Janus, the code name for Windows Media DRM 10, is the technology that will enable you to achieve this goal. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the technology that authenticates and validates that you are who you say you are. This allows for legally distributed music. Apple's competing technology is called FairPlay.

There are two parts of Janus: the digital store and the MP3 player. The digital store is where you go to buy your music. Over the last few months, two notably popular companies have begun to distribute music that uses Windows Media DRM 10, or Janus, to their customers. The first to market is the new Napster. Just recently, Real Networks released Rhapsody 2.0 for customers.

In addition to being able to buy music, if you want to listen to the music on the go, you must have a Windows Media DRM 10-compatible digital music player. They are coming onto the market through companies such as Roxio and Napster.

It is interesting Janus is the Roman two-faced god. One face is good and one is bad (you may have seen his face over a theatre—he is the patron saint of the stage, too). So you'd think that someone at Microsoft would have come up with a better name. On one hand, you have an amazing technology that allows you to rent and listen to millions of songs legally; on the other hand, Microsoft wheezes like Darth Vader, ensuring that you use its technology on the devices it has sanctioned.

Napster

It is ironic that the company that was once the bane of the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) is now the darling of Microsoft. Napster relaunched its music service with legal downloads. As you might expect, there are now thousands of tracks you can buy.

The problem for Napster is that Apple has done better marketing. Through the iTunes Store, Apple sells more tracks in one week then Napster does in a year. Not a nice place to be.

To compete with Apple, Napster became the first company to support Microsoft's Windows Media DRM 10 technology. To help sell it, Napster paid more than an arm and a leg for Super Bowl advertising. The message was simple: It costs $10,000 to fill an iPod with music, but Napster can give you a million songs for $20/month.

Unfortunately, the commercial was lowest-rated commercial of the entire event. (I think the Napster image is still too negative.)

Rhapsody

In one of the biggest surprises of the year, Real Networks announced that it would support Microsoft's Windows Media DRM 10 in its new release of Rhapsody. To get you pumped about the idea, Real is giving away 25 songs a month. Well, it's not really giving them away. You still need to sign up and give away a ton of demographic information, and even then you are still only "renting" the music. (Real is losing 25 cents a month for the giveaway, hardly a huge loss.)

How successful either of these first launches will be has to be determined. The proof will come out when either the next or subsequent round of financials are announced.

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