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standard deviations

Blame Microsoft

Dana J. Parker

July 2000 | A few months ago, I shared in this space my travails with my corrupted version of Windows 95. At the time, I complained bitterly about the substandard nature of products seemingly designed as if they would never have to be repaired.

Well, you'll be happy to hear that I've now installed Windows 2000, and it's working just fine. Even more important, when I installed it to a fresh hard drive by booting from the CD-ROM, I noticed an option for reinstallation. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that someone at Microsoft was listening to me.

But the story doesn't end there. I've had, and I'm still having, my travails with a new operating system. The amazing thing--are you sitting down?--is that none of these problems appears to be the fault of Windows 2000. Despite what nearly everyone I talk to assumes, it's apparently a stable, functioning release with improved features and security over previous Windows releases. That doesn't prevent Mac zealots, Linux users, and Microsoft bashers from gloating over my problems, assigning blame to my choice of operating system rather than to the myriad other possible culprits for my difficulties. It's the thing to do these days, piling on Microsoft, the monopolist company, the bane of the computer industry. I find myself in the bizarre position of defending Microsoft, assuring people that in this case at least, it's not entirely Microsoft's fault.

The thing is that even though Windows 2000 is operating flawlessly, I still can't do what I upgraded in order to do--play WebDVD titles. In fact, with Windows 95, I was able to play DVDs, but not WebDVDs; now I can't play DVDs at all. But Microsoft's not to blame.

blame sigma

The main cause of my inability to play DVDs is that Sigma Designs, makers of the very popular RealMagic Hollywood Plus MPEG-2 decoder card, still have not released a device driver to make the card work under Windows 2000. They do offer a Beta driver, but on my machine at least, it doesn't work--either I get a black screen, or no sound. Even worse, when I went to install the Beta driver from the Sigma Designs Web site, I received this message: "Cannot find the Hollywood directory." Well duh, maybe that's because the original software for installing the Hollywood Plus card creates, by default, a directory named "Realmagic." But creating a "Hollywood" directory didn't help; I got the same error message. Eventually, after complaining to Sigma tech support and for good measure to the DVD listserv and to Marshall Goldberg, director of product marketing for Sigma Designs, the download problems were fixed. But the fix didn't affect the inability of the Beta driver to enable video and audio on my DVD-equipped PC.

Here's what Marshall Goldberg had to say in a response to a ZDNet article, dated March 11, 2000: "A year ago, the magazines complained that that there was no DVD for Linux, and that's something we could fix. So we did." Well, thanks a ton. Only a year to respond to the problems of Linux users, but how about DVD playback for users of Windows 2000?

This gives me even more empathy for Linux users currently embroiled in lawsuits with the MPAA and DVD CCA, who created and disseminated the DeCSS program because they wanted to be able to play back DVD on their operating system of choice. If someone were to post on the Internet tomorrow a reverse-engineered, allegedly illegal Hollywood Plus device driver that would allow me to watch DVD movies I have bought or been given on my legally DVD-enabled and hand-built PC running Windows 2000, I'd download and use it in a heartbeat. I would certainly understand why Macintosh users might do the same thing, since it is currently impossible to play WebDVDs on that platform due to the fact that Mac OS does not provide an API for WebDVD playback.

blame netscape

The failure of Sigma Designs to address the needs of their huge installed base who might also want to upgrade to Windows 2000 is not the sole source of my problems, as it turns out. Even if Sigma offered a Hollywood Plus device driver for Windows 2000, I still wouldn't be able to enjoy the benefits of WebDVD titles. That's because Netscape, my browser of choice, does not support Spinware or PCFriendly, the two most popular WebDVD authoring tools--only Internet Explorer does. This is not, again, entirely the fault of Interactual or Spinware or Microsoft, who I understand have been in discussions with Netscape (AOL) to resolve this problem.

According to Jim Taylor, Microsoft's DVD evangelist, "Customers have been asking Netscape for years to support ActiveX controls in Navigator. As soon as Netscape adds support for ActiveX controls, Microsoft's WebDVD components will work in Navigator, as will hundreds of other Web-enhancing ActiveX controls."

I'm not sorry I use Netscape, however, and I'm not about to change. The fact that I use Netscape and not IE and Outlook Express is what saved me from the Melissa virus last year and the ILOVEYOU virus this year. It's a very unfortunate fact that one must choose between what works and what protects one's machine from malfunction, but that is the choice with which we are faced.

Dana J. Parker (danapark@ix.netcom.com) is a Denver, Colorado-based independent consultant and writer and regular columnist for STANDARD DEVIATIONS. She is also a contributing editor for EMedia, co-author of CD-ROM Professional's CD-Recordable Handbook (Pemberton Press, 1996), and chair of Online Inc.'s DVD PRO Conference & Exhibition.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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