As most everyone looking already knows, Real announced technology called Harmony that allows songs, 192 kbps DRM, bought on their music store to be converted into Apple AAC Fairplay and played on iPods. (Note: This is only true on Windows, Mac users still only get iTunes)
Apple responds by calling Real hackers and threatening to break the AAC songs on any iPod sourced from Real. Real counters with we are not hackers, this is perfectly legal reverse engineering, and you can't make us stop.
I have no particular compulsion to buy songs from a store other than the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), but Apple should just work out a licensing deal with Real to make money off of this and let it be
Why should Apple agree to lose sales on iTMS? The simple view is that Apple allows a duopoly market for legal downloads that work on the iPod to exist. Apple works out a licensing deal with Real, which will be happy to agree to something like this to stave off the potential lawsuit. This could greatly help Apple in the coming battle with MS over music stores. The criticism that you only have one store to buy music from with Apple, with MS you have x, mostly goes away. The old adage the enemy of my enemy is my friend applies here. Apple should seriously consider this point above all others when ordering priorities.
That said, there are a number of potential business reasons Apple might have for locking out Real. First is they are trying to keep as many eyeballs glued to iTMS because they squeak out a tiny profit. I don't think this a great defense, the margins are on the iPods not iTunes song sales.
Another reason Apple locks out Real is because they are planning on reselling, just like Real plans to with Harmony, their music store technology to other parties to generate another revenue stream. This is a lot more intrigueing. If Apple endorses Real, they immediately have a competitor in this upcoming market. A competitor here they are probably willing to live with, but giving that competitor a very strong bonus, compatability with the most popular portable music player in the iPod, that Apple was counting on to drive sales of it's packaged music store software, probably seems onerous to Apple. With Real's Harmony technology, they can target not just the iPod with AAC Fairplay, but any Windows Media DRM device as well.
On a more fundamental level, if Apple endorses Harmony, the winning format could be not AAC, not WMA, but Real. If you buy everything off of the Real store in Real's format, but they convert to everything else with no lose in quality, from a consumer standpoint why not go with Real because they just solved the format becoming a Betamax problem. AAC and WMA, before the market really even gets rolling, have been commoditized to just another format. An analogy is HTML applications running on Linux, Mac, or Windows. The OSes are commoditized because they all run HTML equally well. Why target a format which limits your reach when you can reach every music device with the Real format and Harmony?
Again these are business decisions for Apple to mull over. As a consumer, the prospect of another music store that supports the iPod is enticing because competition always breeds better prices and products in the end.
Got an Airport Express on Friday.
I am using AirTunes right now to listen to music off of my iBook. Once I figured out how to get my Dolby Digital receiver to change its input mode from Digital to Analog on the CD line-in, this stuff just worked.
My iBook immediately recognized that the Airport Express was operational, but I lost internet access through my Microsoft MN-700 Wireless Base Station (802.11g) because it looks like the signal from AE just overwhelmed the MS device. They were within 3 feet of each other near my TV/Entertainment Center. The Airport Express Setup Assistant did pick up 2 other WiFi networks, one a floor above my apartment using an MS router (I installed the wireless base station for the people above me) and another network I haven't seen yet using a Netgear, so it wasn't a problem with AE not detecting the wireless network.
Instead of moving the MS router, I disconnected the MS router from my DSL modem, connected AE, and after I remember my PPoE password, AE just worked to establish my Internet connection. This was a great relief since the MS wireless routers (the 802.11b MN-500 and the 802.11g MN-700) had always been sketchy on this issue. I have had PPoE problems on both devices, apparently related to something special SBC does, with various versions of the firmware for each. Anyway, the MN-700 PPoE had worked flawlessly after the first firmware update to the device the end of 2003, but there were still a few tense minutes where I struggled with my PPoE password until I got connected. What a relief.
Since I disconnected the MS router, my 2 wired ethernet devices, the Xbox and PC, no longer have 'net access. I have 2 choice to fix this problem. I can move the MS router to another room so AE doesn't overwhelm it, or I can get a wireless adapter for the Xbox. I am in the process of selling off the PC parts to get more Apple gear (I see Powerbook in my future), so that doesn't concern me much.
Overall though, the Airport Express has been fantastic. I had music streaming to it from my iBook for about 12 hours straight before I turned it off yesterday, beautiful.
It continues to amaze me how people jump to conclusions on things before either thinking them through or doing a little bit of research.
Tiger's Dashboard vs. Konfabulator is just the most recent example.
This post Daring Fireball Dashboard vs. Konfabulator does an exellent job of presenting what I think is a more balanced view of the issue.