7 October 2009

What's going on with Sony, Microsoft etc?

A while back I posed a question to friends and colleagues. Does anybody buy Sony products any more? In my mind they (Sony) lost the plot when they stopped producing electronics goods with people in mind and instead opted to protect their own interests (ie. Sony Music by implementing DRM in their Walkman mp3 players).

My own theory is this: It should be easy to use any hardware. It should be possible for consumers to source add-ons (like memory cards) from multiple suppliers and there should be no restrictions on what things are used for or how they are used; this allows for consumer ingenuity and creates multiple markets for the same products.

A while back I commented that I thought Sony had lost the plot with its DRM and proprietry Memory Sticks, which lets face it tend to be more expensive than competitors equivalents. This oppinion has now been further reinforced by recent events.

I have managed to get my hands on a Sony VAIO (VGN-NR38M). I've always seen these laptops as pricey compared to competitors machines so they must be better right? Well this one has been an absolute pain because I want to run Windows XP on it.

According to Sony's support website, this is not possible because the machine was supplied with Vista and there are licensing restrictions in place. That's a pretty poor excuse since I have a copy of Windows XP under the MSDN Academic Alliance license which I am entitled to use legitimately on any hardware - at least that's what I thought.

So far it has been a pain because I had to remake the CD using nLite to slipstream the CD just to support Sony's SATA driver. I'm a techie though so I managed to get past that hurdle. I've even got over the hurdle of no network drivers using a £10 USB network dongle which came supplied with its own XP drivers. The final hurdle which I cannot get over though is the lack of driver support for XP. Neither Sony's website or Windows update seem to have available hardware drivers to enable this laptop to run XP. I can get drivers for Vista and I can even get Puppy linux to install and use all the internal hardware properly. Windows XP however appears limited to it's default drivers meaning the 1280x800 widescreen display is limited to 1024x768 at the moment.

So who is at fault here? Me for wanting to use a legitimate copy of Windows XP? Microsoft for not hosting supporting drivers on Windows update? or Sony for not having them on their support website? I don't know, but I do know that when I'm advising people about what hardware to buy I will not be able to recommend Sony.

To be fair, I'm sure other manufacturers have similar issues with some of their laptops and Sony must recognise that consumer oppinion does affect sales (that will be why this laptop has an SD slot as well as a memory stick slot). I'm happy to let them go their own way and do whatever they want, after all they might come up with something unique that we all decide we really need (such as holographic displays maybe).

Until then I am now adopting the approach that yes Sony have a certain brand identity which other companies do not have but at what price? If I buy a Bravia TV am I going to find out that it only works with Sony freeview boxes? It sounds daft but after the lack of hassle-free drag & drop on the MP3 Walkman and now the VAIO laptop experience, I think I'm likely to discover problems with their other products as well.