Microsoft PlayForSure

CourtForSure

Microsoft PlayForSure is a Digital Rights Management program designed to label those audio and video files that are compatible with Microsoft Windows. It's essentially a way for Microsoft to tell you exactly what's legitimate and what isn't, and by placing the filter within its own software – the Windows operating system – it really isn't acting outside of its boundaries.

Advertiser Links for Microsoft PlayForSure
PlayForSure is Microsoft’s unique music DRM
The most defining image associated with PlayForSure is the program's logo: a colorful little blue triangle. You'll find the tiny tag on digital audio and portable video players in your favorite department stores, as well as next to some of the more popular hits within online music archives. The whole system reminds one of the original Nintendo's "seal of approval", which, in a time when the Nintendo Entertainment System was an astronomical success, ensured that its games reached at least some level of quality. However, there was almost no buzz about Nintendo's system of recognition, whilst Microsoft's PlayForSure – like everything the Redmond-based company seems to do these days – is a point of controversy.

So, what does the logo really ensure?

Microsoft has been behind a few computer-based players for years now. You'll undoubtedly recognize the name of its Windows Media Audio (WMA) or Windows Media Video (WMV), both staple digital formats within the Windows Media Player -- Windows, Windows, Windows. PlayForSure is compatible with the most recent version of Windows Media Player 10.

As expected, the stiff competition for these files comes from Apple. The most popular online music store is, without a doubt, iTunes. iTunes is directly attached to the Apple iPod, and for a dollar you can download nearly any song at just less-than-CD quality sound. Apple uses its own DRM system called "Fairplay". It also uses AAC, or Advanced Audio Coding, to compress its music files, meaning that WMA music simply doesn't hack it in the world of iPods and iTunes.

Many criticisms of PlayForSure exist. For one, it's often unclear whether Windows Media Player or the portable media device is responsible for a format that won't play. In fact, it's often the fact that any unsupported format, such as OGG Vorbis, won't be read by the portable peripheral. This really has nothing to do with the Media Player that would be responsible for transferring the downloaded tracks. It's a "he says, she says" type of debacle that can leave even the brainiest techie shaking his or her head.

Even in the wording regarding its licensing agreements – the fine print behind the little blue logo – Microsoft has faced some serious criticism. In one case, Microsoft attempted to prohibit makers of digital devices compatible with the Windows Media Player from using coding formats outside of the Redmond-based company's own designated audio codecs. Translation? They wanted the hardware makers to disallow the use of any other audio format. Thus, you couldn't play Apple's AAC or any other codec not built from the ground up by Microsoft.

Monopoly, anyone? I'll take Boardwalk, please.

Many considering Microsoft’s handling
of DRM to be a monopoly
Microsoft was taken to court over this case and eventually lost, blaming the fine print mishap on a junior employee.

The future of Microsoft's PlayForSure and its general interest in DRM depend on a few future endeavors. For the time being, the company's most recent hardware release, the Zune music player, has an inconsistent relationship with PlayForSure. When first launched, the Zune featured no support for files using Microsoft's DRM, although the company assures that those products previously paid for will work.

It's a sketchy policy, and evidence that the DRM landscape may be changing drastically as the digital media landscape evolves in the next few years.