Microsoft embarks on digital commerce odyssey

3 Jan 2003

Microsoft has embarked on the road to digital commerce by introducing its first product to be sold online digitally using a product activation technology that could help the software giant to combat software piracy.

Next week the software titan will unveil its Plus Digital Media Edition (DME) software at the major Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The move marks Microsoft’s first real foray into digital distribution of software using the latest anti-piracy technologies as well as forms of digital rights management (DRM).

The Plus DME software is effectively an add-on pack for Windows XP, enabling computer users to enhance Windows XP’s digital media capabilities for storing and editing digital photographs as well as enjoying better digital music. The launch of Plus DME coincides with the unveiling of Windows Movie Maker 2 and Windows Media Player 9.

Under the new system, Plus DME is protected by product activation whereby consumers will have to enter a 25-key code to install the software and then activate it over the internet.

The advent of product activation, whereby the software is effectively locked to the computer’s hardware configuration until it is validated over the internet through a database on Microsoft’s own servers, has caused controversy as consumer and privacy groups have lodged complaints with the Federal Trade Commission in the US.

Other critics have claimed that the technology is too cumbersome for consumers. On the plus side, however, Microsoft believes that product activation would in theory make it easier for computer users to reactivate the software should the PC hard drive ever be reformatted.

Product activation is just one weapon amongst many that Microsoft is bundling into its digital rights management strategy, which covers the spectrum of ongoing usage concerns, from preventing piracy to enabling payment, as well as enabling content creators to be recognised for their original work and for content distributors to maintain control of their assets.

Microsoft is currently shipping versions of its Windows Media Rights Manager software to producers of content, ranging from individuals to large media companies, for both Macs and PCs. Using the technology, anyone that buys a file online, whether music or a photograph, is issued with a key or special ID that defines the number of times it can be played, from one time use up to unlimited play, for example.

By John Kennedy