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Mac Bloggers Dig Psystar's Grave, Decry DRM, Defend Apple TV

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 21, 2008 4:00 AM PT

There's a lot of great Apple-focused news hitting the blogosphere this week, including rumors that Apple's next OS X version, Snow Leopard, could hit in the first quarter of 2009 -- and that Apple may be waiting on Intel to deliver Core 2 Quad processors for its next revision to the iMac line.

Mac Bloggers Dig Psystar's Grave, Decry DRM, Defend Apple TV

Of course, the hottest news is a judge's smackdown of Psystar's claim that Apple is violating federal and state antitrust laws. Elsewhere, there are rumors/hopes that Apple is getting closer to offering DRM (digital rights management)-free songs on iTunes from three more of the four major record labels.

Oh, and one more thing: Apple TV lovers were delighted to see a new update.

Sorry, Psystar

The Florida-based upstart computer company -- which builds and sells PCs with Mac OS X preloaded onto them and are most definitely not supported by Apple in any way -- has been dealt a major blow by Judge William Alsup of the U.S. Federal Court for the Northern District of California. He ruled that Apple isn't violating antitrust regulations, an accusation Psystar had outlined in a complaint. Apple, of course, has never been pleased to see Psystar, and the company has a lawsuit of its own directed against the startup for copyright and trademark infringement, as well as breach of contract and trade infringement.

Basically, this doesn't bode well for Psystar.

Seth Weintraub, posting on Computerworld's Apple Ink blog, writes that Psystar was in a lose-lose situation from the get-go. If Psystar had won its battle with Apple, HP and Dell could easily drive it out of business by producing their own OS X-running PCs. Plus, Apple could "break" OS X with each new software update.

Plus, it seems as though most Apple fans are disinterested or don't even understand the allure of a hackintosh in the first place.

"Who in the heck would risk saving a few bucks to buy a computer from a couple of dudes in Miami? And how much can you really save?" commented an anonymous contributor to the Apple Ink post.

Still, on the AppleInsider.com post on the subject, commenter Bowser noted, "Sure, it would be nice to have OS X on less expensive hardware, but I'm not willing to buy cheap hardware for it."

That's pretty much the consensus: Psystar has less than one shaky legal leg to stand on, and it produces a product that few apparently think is truly beneficial to the Apple-lovin' industry ... but a cheaper desktop running OS X? Yeah, most seem to like that option.

"There's still a market for this sort of Mac," commented josc77 on the AppleInsider.com post.

De-DRMing Apple's iTunes

While Apple does sell a few DRM-free songs on iTunes from major record label EMI, the other big three record labels -- Sony, Universal and Warner -- have been withholding the ability from Apple, presumably in some sort of effort to give competing music stores a chance to chip away at Apple's music-selling lead. Cnet's Greg Sandoval stoked the latest round of rumors -- and hope -- by reporting that Apple is still talking with the major labels and trying to make a deal.

"The talks are still preliminary and no deals have been finalized, but one source said one of the major labels is close to a final agreement," Sandoval wrote.

Some readers noted they didn't care so much about DRM -- they just wanted CD-quality tracks offered online. Either way, the masses still appear to be happy enough with iTunes.

"I imagine DRM free music will show up on itunes within the next year. The record labels tried to get people to use other stores by offering DRM free music on them, but not on iTunes. After several months of this, their strategy has not paid off. More people are still using iTunes, and I don't know anyone who buys from Amazon MP3," commented dragonsky1 on the Cnet.com post on the subject.

Either way, wouldn't Apple be talking to the major record labels all the time? Would Apple ever stop talking to the record labels?

"Given that they regularly have to deal with the labels for monthly sales reports, ingesting new content, etc., they're always talking to the labels. Now, in terms of something like removing FairPlay (Apple's DRM technology), that probably does require some senior exec buy in," Mike McGuire, a vice president of media research for Gartner, told MacNewsWorld.

"That said, I'm sure there have been semi-regular chats, but how detailed or serious? Hard saying. It isn't like Apple's been feeling competitive pressure for the past five years from subscription services ... really, the only alternative that's been making a lot of headway has been Amazon," he explained.

"I think if the deals go through, those services who either don't have a differentiated business -- like Amazon -- or some unique capability within their service -- like Zune's wireless sharing capabilities for Zune subscribers -- or a unique catalog ... could have a tougher time going forward," he added.

More Joy for Apple TV Hobbyists

While Steve Jobs has publicly downplayed the Apple TV as just a "hobby," it's anything but a hobby for the Apple TV-loving crowd. Since the device's inception, Apple has irregularly delivered software updates that ushered in new features like the ability to rent and buy movies directly from the Apple TV without a Mac or PC. Other updates have added new features like a wish list for tagging movies of interest or the ability to navigate to and display single photos rather than just a slideshow. The last update brought Apple's Genius music mixing playlist feature to Apple TV.

This week's update now lets Apple TV owners stream music via AirTunes to Apple TVs and lets owners use other remote controls in addition to the little white Apple Remote. It also lets users create playlists in iTunes that contain multiple types of media -- movies, TV shows, songs, and podcasts -- and volume control is now supported via the remote when playing music.

"Thumbs up from me! They finally fixed the issue where if you have ONE episode of a podcast it would say "Contains: 1 Episode" - it now has the full description, length, etc. like it used to and should have. THANK YOU APPLE! Video playlists is AWESOME too! Big time!" gushed sonictonic on the MacRumors.com post on the topic.

For those Apple TV owners who hacked their Apple unit to run the Boxee, the new update breaks the open source media playing software, prompting a few moans -- at least for the time being.

Still, are Apple TV owners being spoiled here? If Apple's living room play is just a hobby, are other set-top box manufacturers actively improving their products via firmware updates? Or is Apple an anomaly here? What about PC-based media solutions?

"Firmware upgrades are all the rage now -- it's a way for companies to release products before they are fully featured, and then build out the features in response to people's input and market conditions. This has gone so far as to have recently shown up in a few Blu-ray players from Samsung, which upgraded their firmare to include Netflix streaming, all at no extra cost to the consumer," James McQuivey, a vice president of research for Forrester, told MacNewsWorld.

"This is an approach that Sonos, the home audio company, has had for a long time. They've rewarded customers who bought early versions by upgrading them for free as the feature set has improved. I expect this to be more and more common in devices ranging from TVs -- some Sony Bravia TVs do this already -- to media extenders," he added.

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