Microsoft has defended its decision not to include DVD playback support as standard in Windows 8, arguing that it would be unfair to buyers of ultrabooks and tablets because of limitations in licensing technology. The company faced sharp criticism last week when it was revealed that Windows 8 buyers wouldn't automatically get the ability to play DVDs, and that they would have to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro in order to do so. That, Microsoft says, is because it is altering its policy on codec licensing to serve the greater good.
For a computer to support DVD playback, Microsoft points out, it must support the MPEG-2 codec as well as the Dolby audio codecs. That costs money - around $2 per Windows license for MPEG-2 licensing alone, apparently - which is either passed on to the buyer, Microsoft, or the PC OEM. In Windows 7, Microsoft chose to include DVD playback support in all but the Starter and Home Basic versions of the OS.
"That means royalties related to DVD playback in Windows 7 have been paid broadly, regardless of whether or not the PC has an optical drive" Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky writes. "Based on sales and usage, we supplied codecs to a very large number of PCs that were not capable of playing DVDs or simply did not ever play DVDs."
With more computers - such as ultrabooks and tablets - shipping without optical drives, that relatively sweeping decision is making less sense as Windows 8 approaches. Since there's no facility for on-demand licensing, where users would pay to upgrade their version of Windows 8 if they needed DVD playback, Microsoft is forced to choose which versions of the OS it will ship with support out of the box.
The strategy, then, is to include DVD support with Windows 8 Pro (which includes Media Center) and the Media Center Pack itself, but not Windows 8. Store-bought Windows 8 systems will likely include everything needed for DVD playback out of the box, as OEMs ensure a solid user-experience for new owners.