The Mac Attack
Apple customers, addicts, apologists -- whatever you want to call them -- are certainly a loyal breed. Having stuck with Apple through the lean years (so far), they have made it to see the beginning of an Apple renaissance. Though Apple has been running a multi-million dollar ad campaign trying to convince the world to switch (or to switch back) to Apple, they are facing an uphill battle. So far, the numbers don't back the marketing. Ironically enough, Hollywood and the Music Industry may turn out to be biggest stumbling block for Apple.
Lately, it seems Apple is back with a vengeance. They've released a whole new Macintosh operating system (OS), the core piece of software on top of which all other software runs. The new Mac OS is quite possibly the most maligned and extolled piece of software of all time. Old Mac fans seem to hate it, claiming it's slow and buggy and that most of their software doesn't run on it. New Mac converts, or "switchers," seem to love it, extolling its beauty and easy of use.
As this Wired News article suggests, however, the old Mac fans are just complaining. For them, switching to an alternative is simply not an option. They are Mac loyalists, and no amount of money spent on anti-Mac advertising will tear them away from their Mac.
Nevertheless, when Mac users go to download the latest movie releases to their computer using MovieLink, they'll find themselves left out in the cold. MovieLink, a new service which allows you to "rent" movies and download them over the Internet, is a joint venture between MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. As such, it is no small thing that these power houses have chosen not to support Apple users.
As this Cnet article points out, MovieLink does not support Apple because "Movielink has not found a suitable security technology that meets our requirements and is compatible with the Mac environment." This technology is commonly called Digital Rights Management (DRM). It's primary purpose is protect copyright by preventing people from making copies of music and movies using their computer.
As we've noted in other articles, a lot of controversy surrounds DRM. There are fair use issues, the necessity to back up information, to upgrade your computer without losing your information, to share information you yourself create, among other things. Apple, in its attempt to position itself as the counter culture's operating system of choice, has snubbed all DRM technology. Apple commercials portray teenagers gleefully copying their CDs to their computers and back to blank CDs. The message seems to be clear: Mac is the easy to use, even when stealing music.
Of course, Apple isn't the only offender. Most computer companies show some overly hygienic teenager copying his or her music without a care in the world. The difference is that for most of these companies, this is just a piece of quasi-stock footage meant to attract customers. Behind the scenes (no pun intended), Microsoft and friends are making back door deals with Hollywood and the music industry. Microsoft is even working on an entirely new operating system that will incorporate DRM technology at its lowest levels.
For Apple, their staunch anti-DRM stance is a call to arms, one they can't drop without undermining their image as the alternative operating system, the people's operating system. As such, Apple is caught in a catch-22 situation. Hollywood won't give Mac users movies without support for DRM technologies. Apple won't support DRM because that would undermine their image which attracts and keeps customers. However, those customers want multimedia content such as movies and songs just as much as the next user -- if not more.
For the moment at least, Apple has little to worry about. DRM, like most copy protection, is fraught with technological hurdles. It will be a few years until these are worked out. Even then, it remains to be seen whether or not the consumer accepts DRM. However, in every previous instance that I can think of, such as Microsoft Windows XP product registration, the consumer never even batted an eyelash. I doubt consumers will put up much resistance to DRM.
In the meantime, Apple users aren't missing much: MovieLink is too expensive; they don't have every movie that your local Block Buster has; it takes too long to download a movie, even on a broadband connection; and you only get 24 hours to watch the movie. Let us not forget that, unless you happen to be of a elite group of übergeek who has connected your computer to your TV, you have to watch the movie on your computer, which is probably nowhere near a comfy couch.