31/07/2006

BACK ON THE BLOGGERLINE...

I set out in December 2005 with noble intentions - to blog regularly, keep this site up to date with interesting tidbits generated by my day job as IT writer for the New Zealand Herald. Well, what an utter failure I've been. Not a single post since January. That would make me a pretty neglectful blogger in anyone's book.

In my defence I'd say the following: I've been damn busy.

Since January, I've travelled extensively to England, Ireland, Germany, Dubai, Singapore, Australia, The US and the Bahamas - only the last island destination and the couple of days I spent in freezing Dublin in March could be classed as holidays. The rest was work related.

I've been heavily involved in making a documentary about which you'll soon hear more. It's related to the War in Iraq and these articles I wrote for the Herald will go some way to explaining what I've been working on: Click here and here.

I also found time to finish to first draft stage the draft of a new feature film screenplay. On top of my regular columns, reviews, features and articles, I haven't had much time for blogging.

Still, I'd like to post some of the articles I've been working on recently and some of the reader responses I've received. I'll be blogginmg regularly form now on because I found to my surprise that punching "peter griffin" into Google now puts me right up the top of the search results. No wonder I've been getting so much spam lately. I feel I owe it to the few dozen people who somehow end up at my site each month to provide some fresh content. Fresh from the film festival I'll also let you know what I thought of some of the movies I caught: definite highlights - Antonioni's The Passenger and The Spanish gem, The Method (El Metode).

My latest column from the Herald on Suunday about Microsoft Zune must have been posted on Mac Central or some other Mac appreciation site in the US, considering the string of abusive emails I got overnight Monday as the Americans read it. The thing is, the column lamented the damage the Zune will do to the current Windows-centric competitors to the iPod. I'm a happy user of my iPod, especially suince I started subscribing to the free podcasts available from iTunes.com. I still think the Zune will be a formidable competitor. Sure, the iPod has 60 per cent market share in music players, but there's plenty of growth in the market and if the Zune works well with Vista and Urge, Microsoft could finally be on to a winner. Never underestimate the boys from Redmond. Sample a selection of my mail on the subject at the end of the article:


Microsoft's Zune set to make a big noise
Sunday July 30, 2006By Peter Griffin

Microsoft has ended months of speculation by admitting it will attack Apple's iPod market when it launches its own music player/multimedia device, the Zune.

By early next year then, the fiercely competitive market for music players is likely to be a two-horse race. Now the Windows-centric music player makers Microsoft has been allied with, will be left to fight for the scraps.

The Zune is bad news for the likes of Creative, iRiver, Toshiba and Cowon, who produce music players that work with Windows Media Player and have been backed by Microsoft as an open alternative to the closed system used by the iPod. The arrival of the Zune is a U-turn in strategy for Microsoft, which, with the exception of the Xbox games console and a line of keyboards and mouses, generally stays out of the hardware game.

Microsoft is unlikely to exclude its current partners from using its music software and online music store Urge, but the level of integration the Zune has with Windows Media Player and Urge will give the Zune an advantage current iPod rivals have been lacking.

Zune therefore makes a lot of sense. It will copy the hugely successful iTunes.com music store model and although the technical specifications haven't yet been released, Microsoft has confirmed that the Zune will come with inbuilt wireless networking, allowing you to update your music over a wireless network. None of the rival players yet have this function, but you can bet they'll all be rethinking their product lines to include it. In that sense, the Zune's arrival is good for consumers. It puts even more pressure on the music player makers to pack more value into their gadgets. The problem is that Microsoft's might is likely to crush the players it once relied on to fight the iPod.

If the Xbox product release cycle is anything to go by, we might get the Zune by about March. If Microsoft had any sense it would rapidly make Urge, which has more than two million songs available for download, available worldwide, in time for the music player's arrival. It's unclear if the Zune will work with existing Windows-centric music download services such as Digirama, CokeTunes and Amplifier. It probably will, but Urge will be Microsoft's first priority.

The Zune may well give the consistent experience Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer is looking for. But it does something else - it reinforces the vertical business model mastered by Apple where technology players are involved from manufacturing through to web services.

The second dotcom boom has made this model attractive to the whole industry. It means more concentration, fewer players controlling more of the market for something which we all love - music. And that makes me very nervous indeed.

Email feedback:

From: Neale
You describe market competition as fierce, yet Apple completely dominates this space. Is Microsoft paying you? With the exception of the X-Box, Microsoft's recent history of entering new consumer markets has been desultory, yet you make it sound like it is a market force before you've seen the device or tried the service. Stop being a shill."

My response:
Gee, the Xbox and Xbox 360 are pretty big exceptions to make considering they constitute Microsoft's biggest ventures into hardware in the company's history. I think most observers agree the hardware in the Xbox consoles is pretty good, certainly giving Sony a run for its money. I'd happily describe Microsoft as a market force any day of the week, because it is. Look how it went from no market share to taking a decent slice of the video games market in four years. The Zune, like it or not, isn't going to fade away. Microsoft needs it to work and has the resources to throw it to make it a successful player. I'm happy ther Zune is arriving, it's the vertical integaration of the market where Apple and microsoft own everything fromt he hardware through to the music services that unsettles me.

From: Bren
The noisier, the better. We need good competition in this field. Hope it does not end like Sony's Betamax because it has similarity...almost an exact copy. We need advertising dollars out there. It will stimulate the market.

My response:
I agree entirely.

From Lou:
MS is in shambles and doesn't know where it wants to go. Apple on the other hand is literally two to four years ahead of MS and well focused with lots of momentum. Especailly on the consumer side where you don't have some geek ( that still thinks IBM sells PCs) making decisions for you.I could see the headlines now: MS sells 200,000 Zunes per quarter and 1/2 of them over heat- sound famaliar? Apple better worry they only shipped 8.1 million.

My response:
You may be right Lou, but I'd hate to underestimate one of the biggest technology companies in the world. Microsoft may have lost focus and missed the web services revolution which Google has dominated, but Microsoft will be back with Vista at the centre of what it will offer. I'm not counting them out just yet.

From "familyguy":
d00d u ttly hve teh same name as teh family guyi luv teh family guy

Riiiiight mate. I get emails like this all the time. If it wasn't for Peter Griffin of the Family Guy animated TV show, I wouldn't get a tenth of the email that I do. Thanks for taking the time to register a Gmail account to send me your words of wisdom.

From Mike:

omg, your name is peter griffin?lol

My response:

Yeah Mike, thanks for adding to the intelligent debate.