Saturday, February 05, 2005

On Proprietary Technology...


Does anybody really care who designs the next OS for Microsoft? Does anybody really believe that the sexy design and fetching good looks of a Mac machine make up for a refusal to support even basic cross-platform functions?

An example: Mac's Logic 7 DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a cool-looking, flexible, powerful music-making tool. One thing it doesn't do is recognize Steinberg's VST audio plug-in and MIDI instrument format. Mac believes it has a better product in what they call Audio Units. Fine, I'm glad you have some bitchin technology, but do you really have to shove it down my larynx? I feel completely confident in my abilities to judge which kind of processing I require, thank you, Mac. I will now buy somebody else's program.

The same amount of frustration comes from my experience with Windows XP. I've found it to be a more than capable platform for my DAW work, but it still can't compare to the stability of most of the Mac OS's. The fact that even today, a person who uses XP for audio is likely to se the"Blue Screen of Death" more than once, is a sad commentary on just how far that OS hasn't come.

I've got a completely unoriginal idea for Microsoft. Why not release the source code for XP to all interested so that the OS is being analyzed and tweaked by thousands upon thousands of developers rather than just a relative few? If Microsoft is worried about the loss of revenue from there being multiple versions of the same OS floating around (one optimized for audio work, one for engineering, etc.), why not get creative with a new royalty-fee system for all those who will sell their tweaked version of the OS. If some were to take the source code and create their own OS, would that cost Microsoft revenue? Perhaps, but with the click of a button nowadays, one can have (and I do not advocate this) an illegitimate version of almost any program. Most consumers don't know how to compile source code, dare I say, and most professional users might appreciate a customized OS.

So it can be said that most companies eschew open-source development on account of fear of lost revenue from the products that they paid so dearly to develop. This can be seen in the media industry (remember Napster?) as well as the software industry. One thing rarely mentioned in these equations is the benefit of free development of software and the equivalent free promotion of media that open-sourcing provides.

The music industry is now seeing a massive sales increase over recent years. Is that because they've cracked down? Or could it be because they're changing the way they offer music (via online music purchase, etc.)? Both have had an effect, I'm sure, and the latter is a direct response to piracy, AKA file-sharing. But perhaps another factor is the inherent promotional effect of file-sharing. Exposure levels for artists are increasing in ways that traditional industry conventions fail to recognize. A person may acquire a track from a friend or online from an artist that they've never heard of. That illegal acquisition may inspire that person to pursue more material from that artist. That new interplay between artist and listener is a dynamic that is ignored in traditional media's narrative of the piracy issue.

As an artist myself, I have a vested financial interest in that dynamic. This is also why any given industry can count on going the way of the eight-track or the Cabbage Patch doll if they fail to recognize the networking and information revolution for what it is: an opportunity for vast and expansive wealth of you play your cards right.

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