Apple’s QuickTime chief Frank Casanova has criticized Microsoft’s move to transform its proprietary Windows Media 9 multimedia software into a standard, telling Macworld that "when you are part of a standards organization you don't develop it behind closed doors”.
QuickTime marketing director Casanova spoke with Macworld at Europe's broadcast industry event IBC.
In early September, Microsoft submitted its Windows Media 9 a/v codec to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) for review and ratification of its software as a standard
On the move, Casanova said: "It is interesting to see how Microsoft has decided to follow our lead in supporting open standards by submitting Windows Media 9 technology as a standard. Microsoft must open up its technology to expand out of the proprietary and into the standards-driven industry."
Casanova believes Microsoft has not frozen development of its software while waiting for ratification: "Do you think for a second that Microsoft will stop working on WM9? I don't think so. So suddenly you've got two standards, and the company will continue to evolve its own version. That's not what we are doing."
Behind closed doors Casanova is critical of Microsoft's approach to standards development: "When you are part of a standards organization you don't develop it behind closed doors, you do it in complete conjunction with all the companies involved in that standard. That's how a standard is born, not by one company, but with dozens working together. That's not the way Microsoft is working, and it will be interesting to see if this tactic will be successful for it in the long run if it does not work that way."
"I'm interested to see how Microsoft's sudden attempt to try to open up its technology works, if SMTPE accepts it", he said.
Even if WM9 does get declared a standard, that's not the end of the story. "The new H.264 video standard codec is better-looking than WM9. We'll have to see how it turns out, but I think it may be a bit of a battle for Microsoft in the standards space."
Despite his reservations about Microsoft's commitment to open standards, Casanova will still welcome WM9 to the Mac. "Our customers deserve access to all the best content on the planet, and I would welcome Microsoft WM9 and RealPlayer to Mac OS X with open arms, because they have some great content. And what we'd love to do is supply the same level of parity on the Mac as they have on the PC. So, even though I'm the QuickTime guy I'd be really happy if they came to the Mac."
QuickTime - Mac OS X's heavy haulage company While well-known, Apple's QuickTime technology does not always achieve full respect for the work it does. It's not just a multimedia solution, the software does a whole lot more. We asked Casanova to explain.
"Everything Apple does is based on QuickTime", he said. "It is core technology that's built into OS X. It is the file format for Final Cut, iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD - they all rely heavily on it to manage a lot of their work. We provide the key technology to create a high-quality, advanced set of APIs that run incredibly well on a Mac to ensure those applications will also run incredibly well on a Mac."
Apple's move to leverage existing technologies is a shrewd strategy, he said: "Those folks in our applications-development teams don't have to think about video – QuickTime does this for them. It does that heavy work. They can think about user interface and functionality, and QuickTime is there, underneath, reliable, dependable, and doing the heavy lifting
Apple also exploits QuickTime within Mac OS X's graphics layer, and its implementation in the operating system means it gets used for rendering and moving "all sorts" of operating system functions, Casanova said.
History shows that achieving market traction for a technology or standard can come down to marketing. When the Betamax and VHS video technologies were introduced, Betamax was widely-regarded as the better technology. VHS became commonplace – many put this down to VHS marketing advisors, who courted the adult movie industry. This led to the format's proliferation in the market – and destroyed Betamax.
Casanova doesn't see any threat to QuickTime from such history: "In our particular case we have an open standard. The MPEG body has 400 member companies and is growing fast because all the companies know that long-terms success for moving content is going to be based on open standards.
Looking back at QuickTime's history, he said: "It’s been around for a dozen years. It has accumulated an awful lot of knowledge and picked up an awful lot of speed.
"In the old days you could uninstall QuickTime and you wouldn't know it had gone, it was like an accessory. Now its a core piece of the entire architecture, and we're thrilled about that."
Digital rights Despite QuickTime's essential role within Apple's architecture, many vendors have turned to Microsoft technology for the digital-rights management technology that's integrated within them. Critics says Apple should deliver DRM technologies third parties can exploit.
Casanova believes the fact that Microsoft's DRM technology is so well-known is itself a fault against it: "The DRM solutions Microsoft and Real have produced so far have given digital rights management a bad name," he said. "It is not the kind of rights management that values the end user's experience.
“User-experience has been central to Apple's core philosophy since the company was born, and this hasn't changed. The best type of rights management is rights management you don't know about. Apple has two shining examples of this, in the iPod and iTunes Music Store."
iPod is the world's biggest-selling hard-drive based MP3 player, and will not allow its users to exploit it as a song shuttle, because built-in software prevents users doing so – this is why iPod users plugging their gadgets into a Mac must decide whether to source all their iPod's music from the new Mac, or stock with their existing library of tunes.
Apple has also implemented a simple, QuickTIme-based unobtrusive form of rights management – FairPlay – in its iTunes Music Store. FairPlay lets users transfer tracks to MP3 players, or back them up to CDs, but will protect against piracy: "FairPlay offers broad controls over what consumers can do. Most people will never encounter any limitations over what they can do with the music they have bought, because the DRM is flexible enough not to get in the way."
"Digital-rights management technology today is defined by all the horrible experiences people have had with it. It's no success story.
"We have employed a level of rights management that doesn't stop people doing what they want with the songs they own, but protects the rights of copyright holders", he said, adding that this focus on end user experience would be the likely strategic direction in any future DRM-enabled technologies from Apple.
Telecoms and the digital hub Apple continues its work with telecoms and mobile suppliers, such as NTT DoCoMo: "We are working with providers worldwide to ensure that content created on the Mac is supported on their networks, and to try to achieve market traction for MPEG-4."
Casanova has great expectations for mobile technology implementations: "When you look at the three things most people carry with them – a mobile phone, pens and keys: you can't add much intelligence to keys, but I think that over time you will see more and more cool technologies find their way to these phones. First and foremost, people need to communicate," he said.
The move to increase the Mac's ability to communicate and co-exist with new and emerging mobile phone technologies means Apple remains relevant to today's and tomorrows tech markets.