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Microsoft Undermines MP3 Format

Microsoft has taken a big plunge with the major labels by weaving copyright protection into its newest operating platform. The record labels and rights holders have successfully lobbied the Redmond, Wash. based behemoth to shun the most popular audio file format on the planet, and press to introduce its own alternative.

With Microsoft’s net generation Windows operating system, dubbed “Windows XP,” music recorded in Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Media Audio format will offer clearer sound than the MP3 format and take up far less space on a computer. However, Microsoft’s new XP system contains built-in software that cannot record MP3 files at fidelity rates higher than 56 kilobits per second. An audio analyst at Gartner Research said recently that MP3 music under the XP system “sounds like somebody in a phone booth underwater.”

Microsoft says that it does not want to pay the Fraunhofer Institute, which invented MP3, and collect about $2.50 from vendors for each copy of recording software based on MP3 technology. In addition, Microsoft is valiantly trying to play catch-up to companies like RealNetworks, which recently released RealPlayer 8, capable of playing just about any audio format. There is nothing very strange or unusual about Microsoft’s move to not support MP3 – the company has historically sought to market software that ignores (or destroys) competing technology. Remember Netscape? Same thing.

But Microsoft’s move to unseat the MP3 format may be a futile effort. There are simply too many files already out there to make much of a difference, even if the industry alters all of its files, converting MP3 versions into a new recordings of that songs in a different format. Like the transistor radio – which remains a staple at the beach and the ballpark – MP3 files will be around for a very long time, no matter what new technology surfaces.

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