Microsoft has finally decided to reverse its decision to take its MSN Music authorisation servers offline on August 31st, going by an e-mail it has just after sending out to its customers. Instead, it will keep these authorisation servers active until the end of 2011. Microsoft will monitor how often authorisation requests are made to decide whether or not to carry out any further steps to support the affected users after the switch-off. Microsoft discontinued its MSN music service when it launched its Zune Marketplace a few years ago. Both services use incompatible DRM, which is also the reason why music bought from MSN music cannot play on the Zune and music bought on the Zune Marketplace cannot play on non-Zune players.
Besides usage restrictions, the main problem with DRM protected music is that the playback device must authenticate the DRM with the service provider before it can be played. The authorisation process determines whether the music is licensed to the user and how many devices or PCs the songs have been authorised to decide whether to allow playback. Unfortunately, if the authorisation server is taken offline, the music cannot be authorised at all with any new equipment. For example, if Microsoft takes its servers offline and a person with an MSN music collection buys a new PC, they would not be able to move their music collection to the new PC, as it would not be possible to authorise the DRM.
It would have been far better had Microsoft offered a better alternative for its MSN customers, rather than just extending its authorisation servers another few years. For example, a tool that strips the DRM would be ideal, as this would eliminate the need for consumers to authorise their existing collection again. Even if Microsoft cannot do this, another option would be to do a DRM exchange, where it offers a tool that replaces the DRM on all MSN bought music with Zune DRM, which would let consumers authorise the songs without the need for Microsoft to keep its MSN Music authorisation servers. A final option would be to just keep their authorisation servers active indefinitely.