Digital World: Fists of (marketing) fury

Once again, and for the Nth time, I must reiterate that I personally am a fan of Windows - at least three computers on my home network run either Windows 2000 or XP - and that my next computer purchase is likely to be a PC with Vista pre-installed.

ikea media center 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ikea media center 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Take a finger, any finger (no, not that one!). What can you do with a single finger? Not much. But, pair it up with its other finger buddies, and you've got a formidable weapon - a fist. Now, what can you do with a fist? Well, of course you can punch people in the nose to get them to comply with your wishes. But an accomplished fist-maker knows that the true value of the fist is not in its use, but in the threat - or perhaps promise - of what it can do. It's not so much about physical as about psychological intimidation. When people see that you're "serious" about matters, they tend to take your opinion much more seriously than they might have, had you attempted to sway them with intellectual or other arguments. In other words, a fist is about effective marketing. Don't get me wrong here; nobody from Microsoft or its partner companies is going to come around and "take care" of you if you don't become an enthusiastic cheerleader for Vista Media Center Edition (at least for my sake, I hope they don't!). But MS Israel's sales strategy for the coming Media Center marketing onslaught seems to be that the products involved - whether the computers themselves, the digital media services, or even the furniture the hardware rests upon, are the best, and maybe only legitimate and/or legal, solution to managing digital media. If Microsoft tells consumers that Media Center is indeed all that and gets big name companies like Acer, Samsung, YES Digital Satellite TV, and even furniture giant Ikea, to back them up - well, that's a mighty big fist to wave in the face of consumers. It's certainly going to be hard to ignore. Once again, and for the Nth time, I must reiterate that I personally am a fan of Windows - at least three computers on my home network run either Windows 2000 or XP - and that my next computer purchase is likely to be a PC with Vista pre-installed (now that I already have the full line of Macs - the Mini, iMac, and Macbook). The Microsoft Israel fist is going to be a good thing for many consumers who have heard about MP3s, digital video downloads, torrents, wireless distributed media, etc., but have been too confused or fearful to try it out for themselves. For many people, only the Microsoft imprimatur means that a technology has "arrived." They trust MS more than they trust themselves to download the various software components and/or purchase the necessary hardware to set up a home media center; if Microsoft says something is "kosher," in that it has been checked out by the company, and is guaranteed to work as an easy solution - that's good enough for them. There are many, many people out there who, even at this advanced stage of the digital revolution, have no idea where to begin, and for them, the Vista Media Center solution is going to be a boon. For me, and maybe you, though - the folks who want to build their own digital solution on their own terms, and in the process save themselves a whole lot of money - it's important to point out that a fist is just a collection of five fingers. Media Center ties up a lot of already existing technologies into a pretty little package, and promises users an easy way to watch on-line movies and video or broadcast music through their home stereo system (although I'm betting some consumers are going to find that things are not as easy as they seem). But in terms of innovation, there's nothing Media Center can do that I haven't able to do using a collection of freeware and a basic computer (both using Windows and a "competing brand" of operating system, which shall remain nameless), a keyboard, a screen and a wireless router. The one innovation for many users is going to be the Media Center remote control, but Mac users already have a remote control (Front Row and Apple Remote,, and there are remote controls for Windows computers (such as the one that came with my two-year-old HP laptop) to control movies and music ( Here's a good example of what I mean. Watching a Vista presentation by the various marketing partners who have signed up to pitch Media Center with Microsoft Israel, I got that "been there, done that" feeling. There was one presentation, though, that did intrigue me - the one by Ikea, which said it had a line of furniture that would be just perfect for a Media Center living room, bedroom, or even kitchen - furniture that fits perfectly with "the lifestyle of a family using Media Center" products (my translation of an MS blog about the Ikea/Microsoft partnership at Unfortunately, I couldn't get hold of the Ikea rep to ask about specifics - but as it happens, the furniture store has set up a model home based on the "Media Center lifestyle" right outside its Netanya center (open through the end of March). As it is, we were due for an Ikea visit anyway - I'm a big fan ( - so of course, I checked out the model home. Going in, I was definitely hyped - I figured there would be special bookcases that were designed to fit the Acer computers that the Media Center solution is based on, or special cable housing at the back of armoires or TV stands that would incorporate both electrical and network cables, making for a neater setup (loose cables are always the worst problem in any digital media setup). In other words, I expected to see some new, innovative designs that were made for the "Media Center lifestyle." Instead, what the model home featured was good old Ikea furniture - the same stuff you see inside the store. Why, then, were these particular pieces chosen as Media Center lifestyle pieces? "They look nice with computers and stuff on them," said the fellow in charge. And indeed they did - but wouldn't furniture from, say, ID Design, look just as nice? That Ikea story is a good example of the fist in action. You want a complete solution for your digital lifestyle needs? Microsoft has it, down to the carpeting - but you can certainly furnish your own digital living room in your own way, developing your own just-as-good personalized solution. And you might be better off if you do, because there are a couple of things you need to be aware of about the Vista Media Center software - like its take on digital media rights management (DRM) as I alluded to last week. Among the things Media Center is going to do is shore up the often wild and freewheeling world of digital media downloading. You have "digital rights" - and so do the people who sell digital media ( But before you decide to invest in a Vista Media Center solution (a substantial investment, as we shall see), you should get to know what rights you have and don't have, plus a few other things - as we shall see next time.