Since Windows was just beginning to be something more than a crutch for people who didn’t want to learn to use the DOS command line, Windows Media Player has been able to play DVDs. Version 6.1 introduced the feature to Windows 95 and it has been standard ever since. All that will soon be changing, however, as Microsoft tries to squeeze customers for a bit of extra money by removing the ability to use the popular media except for those customers who purchase not just Windows 8 Pro, but also the optional Media Center Pack to go with it.
The idea is apparently to reduce costs. Not everybody needs to have access to such capabilities, after all. Owners of the new Ultrabooks made specifically for Windows 8 couldn’t load a DVD if they tried, short of installing a peripheral for just that purpose. The result of removing this feature is that Microsoft avoids having to license decoders and saves a few bucks. Theoretically there is definitely nothing wrong with trying to keep the costs down when dealing with a system as large and complex as Windows.
Does it really make sense to remove such basic functions in an effort to pinch pennies, though? This move is quite reminiscent of the Windows 7 Starter Edition, which worked just fine in many ways but removed such highly visible and situationally valuable abilities as the option to change one’s desktop background in order to coerce customers into upgrading. Given that we expect Windows 8 Pro to be running around $100 more than the standard edition of Windows 8, this is no trivial upgrade.
Yes, the end-user can get around this shortcoming in a number of ways. The ability to play DVDs can be acquired through any number of software packages including some that are already often bundled together with new PCs such as CyberLink’s PowerDVD. In my opinion, unfortunately, introducing a problem for users, after years of it being a non-issue, just to force those users to either figure out a less convenient solution or pay you a premium, is insulting at best.
I’m not making a case for DVD playback being a major selling factor in any version of Windows, let alone Windows 8. It may even be that the DVD as a format is on its way out now that more advanced options are becoming more popular and mobile computers are increasingly doing away with optical drives entirely. To offer the operating system on a computer that has the physical capabilities required for DVD playback only to tell the user that they will have to cough up an extra $100+ in order to use that hardware is a move that will end up costing Microsoft far more than it saves them unless they can keep the change relatively quiet or persuade OEMs to pick up the slack through bundled software.
This isn’t just a matter of phasing out obsolete technology or switching to a modular system, it is reducing the value of an otherwise great product (Windows 8) for the sake of upselling.