Monday, June 09, 2008

Who needs drm when you've got backward incompatibility

Last week the Open University joined Stanford, MIT, Yale and other world-class universities in publishing materials via Apple’s iTunes U service. The project, which looks great btw and congrats to all involved,

had been an open secret in the OU for a couple of months but those in the know were banned from mentioning it to anyone.

In any case, so far so good - the OU is now on iTunes

Now for reasons too long-winded and uninteresting to mention most of my day job business is conducted in my office at the Open University on an ancient Windows 2000 PC. Unfortunately that means the even more ancient Apple v Microsoft antipathy comes calling if I want to look at the OU on iTunes in the office.

If I click on the "Visit the OU on iTunes" button I get a message saying "We are unable to find iTunes on your computer". I do get a button to click to claim I have indeed got iTunes, following which I get an external protocol request asking that I launch an external application, which I agree to do and up duly comes my version 4 (yes I never got round to upgrading it on this particular computer) of iTunes with the snazzy OU frontpage.

Great. Except that when I click on one of the offerings, say the Vice Chancellor's introduction, to see what it looks like on iTunes, I get a message telling me this item needs a later version of iTunes (version 6 or higher) and offering me a click button to upgrade. The click opens a browser window on the Apple site offering me the opportunity to download iTunes 7.6. Unfortunately iTunes 7.6 is incompatible with Windows 2000...

A search for iTunes 6 (easier to find via Google btw than the Apple search facility) finally locates a 36 MB downloadable file. 4 minutes later I find myself with an executable upgrade to version 6.0.5. 14 minutes later still, having installed the software and re-started the machine as per instructions I'm now in a position, finally to view the OU material.

Well nearly. I need to go through the 'you haven't got iTunes' accusation again and the threat er... sorry... the external protocol request that I need to launch an external application. Except that on this occasion agreeing to do so brings up an iTunes software licensing agreement that I need to accept before going any further. So accepted. Followed by iTunes opening up accompanied by a message: "iTunes could not connect to the music store. The network connection was terminated unexpectedly."

Oh dear. It seems as though I'm destined not to experience the Vice Chancellor's words of wisdom from the office. Never mind.

No blast it. I won't be put off. One last try for the summit. Tap tap tappity tap. Click click clickity clicky click and iTunes is finally showing the OU front page on my screen. I nervously push the mouse in the direction of the VC's smiling face. The cursor reaches the annointed spot... my forefinger hovers over the left button of the mouse... dare I allow it to engage? Done. Progress at last! I'm through to the screen where I can "get tracks". Again, almost subconsciously the mouse moves, I've clicked on the button, the task bar indicates it is 'accessing music store' and it's downloading 1 of 5. I'm in! The download progress bar is halfway... three quarters... done. Now click on "Vice Chancellor" in the menu to the left of my screen and I get a window with the five tracks.

Double click number 1 and she's finally there 56 minutes after I first thought I might take a quick look at our iTunes offerings. A less than smooth experience you might say and it certainly brings back compatibility problems experienced over Christmas with my wife's iPod. Interestingly, in her closing comments the VC says we at the OU don't want the technology to get in the way of accessibility, yet it is exactly monetization through controlled and pay per view/ad/click accessibility that major commercial operations like Apple, the entertainment industry, retailers like Amazon, publishers, broadcasters, the big tech companies like Google and Microsoft and trade negotiators are trying to shape the market on.

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