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Browsing Through Digital Media

The future is here for the movie industry, Apple and Microsoft. Each faces a challenge to corral the digital media environment.
December 17, 2004

It’s getting to be that time of year, when those in the punditocracy stretch out, take a look back, and see how we fared in our predictions and industry coverage.

I’ve been writing this column for a little more than six months, and in that time, quite a bit has happened. So rather than simply assemble a scorecard to grade my performance, let’s look at what’s happened to three of the biggest stories I covered.

BitTorrential Downfall?
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) decided this week to go after BitTorrent, the technology Hollywood believes is to the movie industry what the original Napster (and today’s Kazaa) was to the music industry. At a press conference in Washington, DC, the MPAA announced that they had filed lawsuits against BitTorrent users who were sharing digital movies.

In October, when I spoke with Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent, he told me he hadn’t yet been contacted by either the MPAA or the RIAA and felt secure in his technology’s legal status.

“BitTorrent is completely content agnostic,” he said. “People use it for all kinds of things.”

While Cohen is correct that his technology is agnostic, the folks in Hollywood didn’t take too kindly to the uses that many of its devotees were employing to swap copyrighted films. The battle over BitTorrent will be one of the biggest entertainment technology stories of 2005.

Steve Listens!
I pleaded with Steve Jobs to give the iPod a makeover with a color screen. He listened, and in October, he announced that he would do just that. Okay, okay, I can’t take too much credit for that. Okay, I can’t take any credit for it, but I was happy to see the announcement.

As someone who laments the loss of album art in the digital era, a color screen is a step in the right direction. Plus, as a portable photo album, it can’t be beat.

Next year, Apple is expected to launch a flash memory-based iPod in the first quarter. This model will be considerably cheaper than the current least-expensive model.

On a more forward-thinking note, I’d like to see an iPod that supported video formats. Jobs famously chafes at the notion of people watching videos on the small screen, but if cell phone makers are giving it a go, why shouldn’t Jobs? Take this as the official call to arms, then: Steve! Give us video!

In October, I wrote about a nascent effort to rally support behind the first official (non-beta) release of the Firefox browser, which is an open-source effort by the folks at Mozilla. Firefox users are so rabid, they were taking up a collection to buy a full-page, New York Times advertisement congratulating developers for its release.

Pretty crazy. When do you see a user-bought, full-page ad giving kudos for AOL 10 or the latest Internet Explorer?

As the year winds down, Firefox – and its followers – have racked up some incredible successes. The ad ran in yesterday’s Times, and the Mozilla developers announced that Firefox 1.0 had been downloaded 11 million times.

According to WebSideStory, Firefox’s “usage share” has risen to four percent from three, while shows that since FireFox’s 1.0 release, Internet Explorer share has dipped below 90 percent. As security – not nifty new features – continues to be the number one concern with browsers, look for FireFox to continue making gains on IE in 2005.