There's no press release with hopeful language, no carting out of company executives with quotes explaining that this latest move is a positive, not a negative, for its many industry partners. But Microsoft this week quite definitely put the final nail in the coffin of its PlaysForSure initiative, which at one time sought to end Apple's digital media dominance through a series of hardware, software, and services partnerships modeled on the success of Windows in the PC market. That initiative failed, which Microsoft only tacitly acknowledged when it began selling its iPod-like Zune players last year.
But this week Microsoft revealed, quietly, that it was killing the PlaysForSure initiative and rolling it into the wider Certified for Windows Vista program. Of course, in the interests of positive spin, "killing" becomes "growing up," as in, "PlaysForSure is growing up!" Microsoft says it is making "the same compatibility promise \[with a\] different name." Now, instead of looking for the PlaysForSure logo to ensure compatibility, consumers just need to look for the Certified for Windows Vista logo instead.
That change will make plenty of sense to the several hundred million people using Windows XP, I'm sure. It's also unclear whether this move will further alienate Microsoft's digital media partners, which are already feeling squeezed out of the market thanks to the software giant's recent gains with its Zune. In this case, Microsoft has bypassed its partner ecosystem to create a product line that is modeled after Apple's monolithic approach with the iPod, where the hardware, software, and online service are all controlled by a single source. Only a tertiary market for accessories is made available to partners under such a system.
It's understandable that Microsoft would want to reduce the number of logo programs it sponsors. However, doing so in the waning days of this holiday season doesn't make a lot of sense: The company should have announced its plans at CES in January and rolled out the change over time.