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Image The Secret Weapon Inside iTunes
Apple strikes back in the battle for digital media rights, production, distribution and playback.
'Hell froze over,' the big headline at the release of Apple's iTunes for Windows, may have suggested that Apple was doing the unthinkable in releasing an application for Microsoft's Windows platform. Nothing could be more wrong.

The release of iTunes for Windows is really a chilling strike on Microsoft's hellish plans for world domination through Digital Rights Management, and a key part of Apple's plan to steal back leadership of the desktop digital media industry that Apple invented.

It's a plan that's all about QuickTime, the magic behind iTunes and really, Apple's best kept secret. Microsoft has been trying kill QuickTime for the last decade; after attempts to compete with the technology failed, they've tried to threaten, sidetrack, sabotage and lately just FUD it out of existence.

While Apple faces competition from several angles, nobody anywhere offers anything that approaches the power, breadth and ability of the QuickTime Media Layer. That's critically important because QuickTime is the last, best hope for a world of digital content not captive under the iron fist of Microsoft.

The Tech behind the Tunes
The triumvirate of Apple's iPod, its iTunes application and its iTunes Music Store represent a convergence of Apple's best technologies and core strengths. It pairs the company's remarkable ability to create innovative interfaces and desirable hardware with their QuickTime Media Layer and the WebObjects database application server they acquired as part of NeXT Software in 1997.

There's nothing really new to say about Apple's beautiful hardware and intuitive software combination. It rocks.

As for WebObjects, its contribution is essentially a slick way to publish the interface a Mac OS X Cocoa application over the Internet, either to regular web browsers, as with the Apple Store, or to thin client applications, like the music store in iTunes. While companies like Sun like to pontificate about the future using buzzwords like 'thin client' and 'network computing', Apple quietly delivered, in iTunes, what is perhaps the largest and most impressive distributed application and thin client in the world, built upon WebObjects.

It's certainly not obvious why Apple isn't giving more credit to WebObjects. Before NeXT was acquired by Apple, WebObjects was about the only thing left at NeXT that Steve Jobs could get excited about. Dell built their original success in web sales using it, and the US Postal Service redefined their business with it. Apple seems to like the product pretty well, as they use it to power GSX, their internal parts and warranty repair software used worldwide by dealers and repair centers, along with and a host of other internal systems.

Still, the really juicy secret of iTunes for Windows has to do with QuickTime. Apple released a music application for Windows to sell music, and they sell music to sell iPods. With competing devices selling for as little as a quarter the iPod's price, and plenty of bootleg music available on the web to freely download into simpler devices, it's hard to imagine how Apple can command 70% of the portable music market's dollars. The answer obviously involves the iPod's nearly perfect design, but the real magic behind the curtain is something imitators can't knock off: Apple's QuickTime Media Layer. Why that's the case will take some explaining.

Part II > QuickTime Media Layer: Apple's Best Kept Secret

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