Sean Alexander, who works on Windows digital media team at Microsoft, has a blog post entitled Thoughts on PlaysforSure and Zune Announcement which provides his perspective on some of the speculation about Microsoft's Zune announcement and it's impact on Microsoft's PlaysForSure program. He writes

From what I've learned, Zune is a new brand for Microsoft - Zune is about community, music and entertainment discovery.  You'll experience Zune with a family of devices and software that bring it all together. Yes, we all want more details, but we’ll have to be a little patient for more details. Check out and sign up if you want more details.


One question that gets asked here is the relationship to our existing PlaysforSure program. The Windows digital media team (of which I've been a member) has been focused on raising the tide for all boats, raising the experience for many partners through programs like PlaysforSure, giving sessions on 360 degree product design at partner events, offering frank feedback on product designs when requested and more.  We want Windows to be the best place to experience digital music and entertainment.  The Windows team will continues to work closely with service and device partners to make Windows a great platform for any digital media.


And one need only look as far as the MP3 player/portable media player market to find other examples of taking multiple approaches.  At least two of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers compete on not one, not two, but three levels:

  • They supply memory for their own, and competitive MP3 players
  • They design and sell MP3 "engines" (systems on a chip) for their own, and competitive MP3 device manufacturers
  • They design, build and compete for retail space for their own, branded MP3 players
There are many other examples that can be drawn within Microsoft as well – for example, Microsoft Game Studios competes with independent game publishers for consumer dollars on the same platform (Xbox) also built by Microsoft. In all these cases, relationships of trust must be established independently between product groups or divisions.  The same holds true here as well.   It’s hard to understand unless you’re inside Microsoft but these groups have separate P&Ls (Profit/Loss metrics) and that sometimes means trying different strategies.

I've seen a bunch of negative speculation about Zune and PlaysForSure both from technology news articles such as C|Net's Swan song for Microsoft's music allies? and blog posts such as Magic 8-Ball Answers Your Questions Regarding Microsoft’s ‘Zune’. I'm glad to see Sean offering his perspective as someone who works on the Windows digital media team on PlaysForSure.

The cool thing about blogging is that if people are talking about you and your product, you can just join in the conversation.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006 7:46:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) what's happening to PlaysForSure?
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 7:57:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
From Sean's post
"PlaysforSure continues to be a Windows effort with some 140+ products in the market today and with the recently updated PlaysforSure 2.01 specification, the experience bar will be raised even higher."
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 9:25:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Joining in the conversation might be the cool thing about blogging, but Alexander is dodging the question. The question is: Does Zune build on top of PFS or not? If the answer is "not" (as rumor has it), then PFS is dead.

Yes, I'm sure the PFS team is fully committed to PlaysForSure. But if Microsoft executives have made the decision to offer their own portable devices, software, and services, and to explicitly NOT build them on top of PFS technologies, how much commitment do you really believe Microsoft has to the technology? It's Visual FoxPro in an Access world.

Even beyond that, this is a slap in the face of PFS as a technology. The Zune team is saying that PFS sucks so bad that they can't make a compelling user experience on top of it even if they control the whole chain, from service to software to hardware. Up until now, it's always seemed like the PFS ecosystem has fallen behind iPod because of incompetent device makers like iRiver and incompetent service providers like Yahoo. But if Zune rejects PFS, then Microsoft itself seems to be saying that PFS just can never manage to achieve an iPoddish level of integration, no matter what.

FWIW, I think that Zune not using PFS would be a terrible move. The relative open-ness of PFS is Microsoft's main advantage over the iPod, and throwing all this away to make a Microsoft version of iPod/iTunes is just silly. By all means, make a gold-standard player and service, one so good that other PFS partners have to step up an extra level to stay alive; but build it on PFS, so that other companies still CAN step up and play in the same pool.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 11:08:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'm not dodging- I don't speak for the Zune team, nor can I comment about what features their device has (or has not). I've pinged Cesar and expect he'll clear this up shortly.

Thanks for the link Dare!
Thursday, July 27, 2006 4:01:21 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sean: Sorry, I just assumed that you knew but were being coy. I apologize for the implicit accusation. It's mildly surprising that neither the PFS people nor the Zune marketing people appear to even KNOW whether Zune uses PFS.
Friday, July 28, 2006 4:44:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So Cesar answered the question, and it turns out Zune doesn't use PFS. A pity, but that's pretty much the death knell for PFS.
Saturday, July 29, 2006 11:45:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The xbox 360 will be Microsoft's ticket to success with the Zune product line.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 9:13:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Microsoft is trying to have it both ways. They don't want to alienate their partners (or staff in the PFS unit), but at the same time they're clearly moving on to something new - and incompatible. A move like this is only possible because PFS hasn't really caught on - well that and the fact that MS can afford to burn so much cash trying to make Zune work.
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