RIAA Creates Martyr, Dell Goes On Demand, Fiorina Does Fox, Product of the Week

There are some weeks when I wonder if we have too many executives and politicians who truly don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain. Last week was one of those weeks.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may have lost a war by winning in court and creating a martyr.

On the positive side, the market has been trying to move away from traditional PCs for some time, and Dell pitched its revised on-demand computing model. It isn’t perfect, but it shows promise.

Carly Fiorina, the embattled CEO who started but could not complete HP’s impressive recovery, will be joining the Fox network and, assuming the personalities can get along, the end result should be very positive for both parties.

For the product of the week — and in line with my belief that most of the folks involved with protected music and movie distribution are whacked — is a product that delivers high quality, digital rights management (DRM)-free music in your home and sets a standard I wish others, like Apple, would follow.

Creating a Martyr

When the RIAA startedgoing after widows and children, I figured it was only a matter of time before itnailed someone that folks would identify with.

Jammie Thomas, an apparently likable young woman, was nailed to the cross by the RIAA, which won an initial — it will be appealed — US$222,000 award against her. Comments by at least one juror indicted the jury clearly had no concept of how easy it would be to go in and do — remotely — what the defendant was claiming likely happened.

Granted, her PC should have been better secured, but to conclude she was lying because he clearly didn’t understand the technology added to the perception that Thomas was unfairly treated and suggests that having a jury of noobs for an Internet case likely isn’t a great idea.

A few are findinga little humor in this, but no one is laughing with the RIAA.

What amazed me when I searched on the RIAA to come up to speed on this case was the number of articles supporting Thomas; and how the RIAA was increasingly portrayed as a heartless and evil organization apparently focused on using fear tactics against women and children to enforce laws it had creatively interpreted.

They had effectively turned Thomas into a martyr, and there is even a Web site that has been set up to fund her defense.

This is all happening during an election year when a number of things, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted by the ex-Republican Congress, will likely be questioned. Partisan politics could take an issue like this and put it solidly on the election agenda.

The result, based on what I’m seeing, would hardly be positive for the RIAA. Even if this doesn’t happen quickly, over time the RIAA is getting a really bad reputation, making it harder and harder for it to get the support it will need to be successful in the future.

In the end, this will simply force more and more entertainers, customers and music providers like Yahoo to abandon Digital Rights Management (DRM), and I can’t argue against that trend. It will also likely trivialize the RIAA, as more and more people will distance themselves from this organization as well.

It always fascinates me when a group like this seems to be hell-bent on organizational suicide, and it surprises me how often clueless people get into positions of power and make this happen.

Dell Builds Demand for On-Demand

On the other side of the coin, Dell’s executive team seems to be doing a lot better of late. They’d made some rather stupid choices with regard to support and had some financial reporting issues to work though before they got here, but recent news surrounding them has been much more positive.

Last week, Dell launched its revised on-demand computing initiative, which represents a bundle of desktop hardware, networking gear and servers that can replace traditional PCs and provide a much easier-to-manage environment than you would typically get with a more traditional solution.

Basically diskless PCs backed up by Citrix, a tuned network and servers, this is the least jarring of the major alternatives to what we have been deploying and using for years. While it isn’t as technologically advanced as HP’s PC blades or as green as HP’s thin client initiatives, Dell’s solution appears more simple and represents less initial risk than these other alternatives. It also provides a valid choice for those seeking change — and one that is clearly differentiated.

This is one of the problems with all of these traditional PC alternatives, though — they are highly inconsistent between vendors, and that doesn’t allow any of them to grow to their full potential. In that kind of environment, a solution that minimizes risk could do very well even if it falls short in other areas.

In any case, choice is good. This solution appears to be well thought out, and it does address a number of security and manageability concerns that exist in the current market.

Other than cross-vendor standards, the one thing that still needs to be addressed, however, is mobility. We may have to wait for Intel’s ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) to arrive or the iPhone-like devices to mature before the industry can address that one. This is a good time to remember that HP has a full line of smartphones, which is what makes following both of these companies interesting.

Fiorina Does Fox

Speaking of HP — and avoiding the heading “Fiorina Gets Foxy” — Carly Fiorina, HP’s ex-CEO, took a spot over at Fox News. For those of us who followed her, there was an almost legendary respect for her intelligence and presence on stage — skills that could serve her very well in either TV or politics.

Her weakness was in the lack of really good people skills and an almost rabid need to get credit for everything, neither of which appears to be required for folks on TV. In fact, on TV, it sometimes seems like poor people skills may be an asset.

She is was one of the most articulate executives I think I’ve ever met and the only one that could have, under the right circumstances, become a second Steve Jobs in terms of charisma and style.

This all goes a long way toward my belief that this will be a good match for her if she doesn’t make the same kind of political mistakes she’s made in the past and can accept a little humility at the start and doesn’t initially become the female Donald Trump. Once established, she can likely do whatever she wants and, were I to bet, I think this will be a good match for both Fox and Fiorina.

Done right, this could put Carly Fiorina back in the game and maybe get her back on track to reaching her full potential. It also sounds like her goal is to go political next. We’ll see.

She is worth watching if you get the chance.

Product of the Week

Along with my initial comments on the RIAA, the product this week is the Olive Opus N3.

This is a home music server and it is built around the idea that music should be high quality and shouldn’t be wrapped in DRM, watermarks or anything else. The high quality is maintained by avoiding MP3 compression and maintaining CD quality on the hard drive-stored media.

Their high-end Opus N5 represents the state of the art in terms of very high quality sound, but the N3 is vastly more affordable.

At around $1,100, it isn’t cheap. If you buy music from them, it costs $1.29 a track, but it comes without the Big Brother problems. The device will work with Internet radio and eventually you’ll be able to download music at this quality from the Web, but for now you either have to rip CDs or they mail you a hard drive with the music on it.

These products are for people who truly love music, though, and have a sound system that can take advantage of the high-quality sound that comes out.

My belief is that if we want the industry to change, we should support more vendors like Olive and less that seem to tie us to low-quality, highly protected music we can’t use where and when we want.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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