Microsoft plays follow the reader with MIDAS initiative

Digital rights management is on peoples’ minds these days. And it’s not just Napster, Gnutella and De-Content Scrambling System. On a more mundane, corporate level, controlled access to intellectual property can unleash a firestorm of activity in the relatively staid “research report” business. Microsoft Corp.’s recently unveiled MIDAS (Microsoft Digital Access Server) may be just the golden touch DRM needs.

I believe this time Microsoft got it right. (Well, almost right.) Yes, I’m coming out in support of a Microsoft initiative. I hardly believe it myself.

The user portal into content managed by MIDAS is a program called Reader. Like Adobe Acrobat, the program is available for free download and is the “front door” access to free and purchased digital books. Unlike Adobe, from what I see Reader is only available for Microsoft operating systems.

Adobe’s Portable Document Format file type has long since reached “de facto” standard status in the techie world. With readers freely available for virtually every imaginable platform and a much more appealing format than text files, it is everywhere and does a fine job with documents.

Microsoft’s brilliance, though, was in recognizing that documents and books are not identical. While books can certainly be “poured into” Acrobat, what comes out won’t be everyone’s idea of a book. Instead, Microsoft took a top-down approach and attempted to bring the physical book metaphor to e-books.

So Reader is the essence of simplicity. To those of us used to ultra-high-tech, Reader seems almost under-optioned. There aren’t a lot of choices the user has to make. The user is greeted with a book cover, opens the book and starts reading. Simple bookmark, lookup and annotation functions are available with a right mouse click.

As you open more books, they get added to the library screen that appears when Reader is first invoked. This is a library in the sense of a bookshelf rather than in the traditional way of a computer directory.

The stroke of brilliance, though, is how Microsoft is marketing this technology. Instead of trench warfare against a dug-in Adobe, Microsoft has all but ignored the techies and chosen to strike at higher levels – in effect, bringing its Reader message to people who don’t know about Acrobat.

I first stumbled across Reader when I saw a full-page ad in media-on-media magazine Brill’s Content. Not exactly a computer-trade publication.

Microsoft made sure it had powerful partners on board and executing before making noise about the product. The American Association of Publishers is a staunch supporter. Barnes & Noble has committed to be a Microsoft e-book outlet, and The University of Virginia has prepared hundreds of classics as free Reader downloads.

This initiative has momentum out of the gate. Be on the lookout for it. If MIDAS and Reader haven’t touched you yet, they will.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Manasquan, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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