Battle of the Bands: Gates vs. Jobs

In dueling tradeshow keynotes this week, Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates laid out their competing visions for digital convergence. To Messaging and Collaboration editor Steve Gillmor, Apple now holds the lead position.

LAS VEGAS—In back-to-back keynotes in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates this week underlined the vanishing difference between consumer and enterprise markets. Convergence has been the password for at least the past two Comdex and CES events, and both Apple and Microsoft are rolling out products loosely based on the notion of a home information hub.

Microsofts chief software architect was uncharacteristically off-center on Wednesday here as he let Jay Leno and an MSN product manager entertain the theater-sized crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show keynote. He stumbled frequently as he winged it in a presentation revolving around "consumer" experiences in the home and on the move. Even the demos had a slap-dash feel to them.

However, dont mistake these surface messages for a lack of preparation. If anything, the technologies Microsoft is readying represent the culmination of years of planning, investment and R&D. But the results somehow fell flat—becoming only small flashes of brilliance buried in miles of cable and duct tape across Microsofts splayed divisions.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about Bill Gates CES keynote.

At MacWorld Expo San Francisco on Tuesday, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs made the best of a largely transitional set of announcements. The iPod Mini has some form-factor appeal, limited price incentive, and some momentum-building for Apples cross-platform iTunes-iPod strategy. But the headline was Apples move into the music creation space, via the companys new GarageBand sequencer and recorder add-in to its iLife software bundle.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Steve Jobs Macworld keynote address.

Just as last years intro of Final Cut Pro Express was a warning shot across Adobe Systems Premiere Pros bow, GarageBand must send shivers down the spines of DigiDesign ProTools developers. Even if Apple stays in the so-called consumer space with GarageBand, ProTools IT priesthood and we-come-and-install service requirements are sure to dissipate over time.

But more significantly, GarageBand is an RIAA DRM-free zone. Not only can you use Apple-supplied samples, but you can also record your own audio and mix it in.

Take a look at hip-hop artists like Jay-Z or Eminem who employ both samples and Firesign Theatre-like comedy "skits" in their work. Perhaps GarageBand will trigger a new hybrid art form that resamples, reworks and otherwise regrooves elements of RIAA music into "private" personal CDs and AAC files that are transferred around the network outside of the usual DRM restrictions.

This movement is an attempt to sidestep the issue of copying by creating new material out of the fair-use infrastructure popularized by satire and viral marketing. Certainly, as these files become more widely circulated, the publishing and sample-owning corporations will extract their pound of flesh. But by then the growing network of consumer producers will have momentum and that immutable bargaining chip—hits—on their side.

Next page: The next Beatles? Convergence comes to the music business.