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Windows 8, DVD Playback, Media Center, and You

I’ve sort of avoided this topic for a while. I guess I wanted it to sink in before I just went off the handle and issued yet another rant condemning Microsoft for the latest in a long line of customer-unfriendly actions. The thing is, I just can’t justify what they’re doing.

To recap, Microsoft revealed a week ago how it would make Windows Media Center available to Windows 8 users, and it did so via a Building Windows 8 Blog post that was logically titled, get this, Making Windows Media Center available in Windows 8. Seeing that headline, it’s logical to assume that Microsoft simply was expanding on the information it previously provided—i.e. that Media Center would be offered only as a paid (with a nominal fee) add-on to Windows 8 Pro.

Logical, but wrong.

I feel like I’m finally getting the whole modus operandi, the zeitgeist, if you will, of the Building Windows 8 Blog. And it goes like this: Pummel the reader with so much information that it obscures the real point of the post. And in this case, the point of this post had very little to do with Media Center, despite the title. We already knew it wouldn’t be included “in” Windows 8, and would only be made available as a paid add-on to Windows 8 Pro users only. No, this post was about DVD (and Blu-Ray) movie playback. More specifically, about how Microsoft is in fact cutting support for DVD playback from Windows.

Incredibly, this crucial bit of information comes an astonishing 760 words into this post, after a bewildering series of justifications for what’s to come. That’s what I mean by obscuring the real point.

So here’s what they’re doing, boiled down to its essence.

1. Microsoft is replacing the Windows Anytime Upgrade feature from Windows 7 with something called Add features to Windows 8.

2. This Add features to Windows 8 will offer at least two software packages, the Windows 8 Media Center Pack and the Windows 8 Pro Pack, to users seeking to add (added cost) features to Windows 8. Pricing for both is TBD.

3. The Windows 8 Media Center Pack is for Windows 8 Pro users who wish to add Media Center (unchanged from Windows 7) to their system. This is the nominal-cost, add-on Microsoft previously discussed.

4. The Windows 8 Pro Pack is for Windows 8 users who wish to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro and Windows Media Center, all in one fell swoop. (It’s not clear if there will be a separate upgrade for those who want to upgrade to Pro but not get Media Center.)

5. No version of Windows 8 will include DVD (or Blu-Ray) playback capabilities.

6. Those who upgrade with the Windows 8 Media Center Pack will get DVD playback capabilities ... but only in Windows Media Center. (That is, not in Windows Media Player for some reason.)

7. Microsoft is not offering a DVD playback pack (or whatever) to add DVD playback capabilities to Windows 8 outside of Media Center.

8. Microsoft is relying on third parties—PC makers, DVD drive makers—to provide “great experiences” for both DVD and Blu-Ray playback. (To be fair, many PC simply come with this capability.)

9. If you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8, you will retain any previously-available DVD (and Blu-Ray) playback capabilities.

10. Microsoft is “incredibly excited about the future of entertainment in Windows,” which, as others have pointed out, apparently doesn’t include Windows Media Center, or DVD or Blu-Ray movie playback.

As you may expect, a veritable s@#$storm erupted in the wake of this secretive announcement. Microsoft was so taken aback by this frankly obvious reaction that it incredulously posted a FAQ about DVD playback and Windows Media Center in Windows 8 a day later. In this FAQ, the company explained that many modern PCs don’t even come with optical drive, and so if it provided DVD playback in Windows 8, each user would have to shoulder the cost regardless. 


I just finished reading Insanely Simply by Ken Segall. It’s excellent and I recommend it highly. In this book, Mr. Segall describes his first-person experience dealing with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and most specifically with the simplicity-driven mantra that Jobs hammered through at Apple during his most recent several-year stint running the company.

There’s an excellent story in the book about an Apple employee who wanted to create a second, higher-end version of the Final Cut Studio product to justify the expense of Apple purchasing a software application called color (yes with a lowercase “c”). This employee worked for weeks on his presentation so he could convince Jobs, too, that this was the right approach. But Jobs didn’t even let the guy speak when the big day came. “Just put it in the box,” he said. And that was the end of that.

Microsoft can’t make this kind of decision. Instead, it issues mammoth, dense blog posts that both obscure what they’re really doing and then retroactively justifies those actions. Its strategy appears to be to pummel people into not paying attention. Sorry, but it’s not working. And it’s not right.

Microsoft should just put both Media Center and DVD playback in the box, and suck up the costs. Period.

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