It’s been a while since the My Mac Interview column has been seen online, at least with my byline on it. I thought that maybe it was time to dust off the logo and see how things may have changed since my last interview. This month I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Brian Landwehr, President of Mediafour Corporation, a developer and publisher of cross-platform computer software. The reason that I contacted Mr. Landwehr was the announcement of XPod, (now called XPlay) a software program that will enable Window users to use Apple’s new iPod MP3 music player. So, sit back, relax and enjoy.
My Mac: Mr. Landwehr, Thank you very much for consenting to be interviewed and for taking the time to speak with me. Can you provide our readers with some background on yourself, your work and how you first became involved with Mediafour and cross-platform software?
Mr. Landwehr: I previously worked in video and film production, and experienced first-hand the need for a way for Mac disks to be read on other platforms. I figured that there must be demand for such a solution not only in film and video production, but also in other creative industries such as publishing and advertising. Our first product, MaxDOS, was for the now defunct Commodore Amiga computer, and is the origins of what is now MacDrive for Windows.
My Mac: Can you give us a brief history of Mediafour Corporation and its background of providing software for cross-platform users?
Mr. Landwehr: The creative community is our primary market, but we provide software to many schools, government agencies and end users. We have completed five commercial versions of our MacDrive software, some custom projects like the special MacDrive CrossStripe Edition we developed for Avid Systems, and we currently have a couple of different (but still cross-platform) projects underway–one of which is XPlay. Since Mediafour was founded as a start-up in 1994, the company has grown to 11 employees, and the software is now available in five different languages and is sold in over 70 countries. We are headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa.
My Mac: I see that there has been a name change from XPod to XPlay. Have you received any type of feedback from Apple regarding the XPod name?
Mr. Landwehr: Apple doesn’t think we have the right to use the Ã’XPodÃ“ name we originally announced. We respectfully disagree, but have decided to concentrate on the software, rather than the naming, as our customers have made it clear that they want this software as soon as humanly possible. Therefore, we have chosen to simply change the name to XPlay.
My Mac: Apple’s new iPod has received rave reviews but with the one main caveat: “Not for Windows users.” Is that what has driven Mediafour to develop XPlay?
Mr. Landwehr: We are impressed with the design and the concept of the iPod, as well as the rave reviews it is receiving. When we saw that it was Mac-only, it was natural for us to want to make it work with Windows, as well. After some preliminary testing, we decided we would be just the company to do it well and quickly.
My Mac: Considering that iPod has only been out a few weeks, how hard has it been to develop the XPlay software?
Mr. Landwehr: We have years of experience in creating solutions for compatibility between Mac OS and Windows, so this is familiar territory for us. In fact, you can already use the iPod as a hard drive on your Windows system with MacDrive. The tough part is working with the music files and integrating them with Windows Media Player and other music software as gracefully as Apple has done with iTunes.
My Mac: Since iPod does not support WMA files, XPlay is going to have the ability to transfer MP3, AIFF and WAV files over to the iPod from the Window users computer. When will Mediafour be able to provide that transfer capability of WMA files?
Mr. Landwehr: The iPod is not capable of playing WMA files, so users will need MP3, AIFF or WAV versions of the music they wish to transfer to iPod. Though the first release of XPlay likely will not, a future version will support automatic transcoding of WMA files, meaning that WMA files will automatically be converted to MP3 on the iPod as they are transferred.
My Mac: From your vantage point of dealing in cross-platform software, what do you see as the impact of the iPod on Windows users, if any?
Mr. Landwehr: Were it not for XPlay, I don’t think it would have much impact on Windows users, honestly. Though I think none of them are as elegant, powerful and well-crafted as the iPod, there are a plethora of portable music players for Windows. XPlay, however, not only makes the iPod one of the very best MP3 players for Windows–it also makes it into a fantastic device for general-purpose cross-platform document sharing, thanks to the inclusion of MacDrive technology.
My Mac: What type of “anti-piracy” cababilities will be in place as part of the XPlay software?
Mr. Landwehr: We’re not out to undo the “keep the honest people honest” approach Apple has taken with regard to music rights protection. Therefore, XPlay will maintain a similar level of protection to that employed by iPod and iTunes. Specifically, Apple has designed iTunes and the iPod to only synchronize with one computer in order to discourage users from stealing music, and it is not our intent to provide a way to circumvent that protection.
My Mac: Have you received any type of feedback from Apple regarding the XPlay software?
Mr. Landwehr: We have had some Apple employees express interest in our XPlay software–only positive reactions or basic inquiries so far.
My Mac: Do you expect Window’s users to rush to purchase XPlay so that they can enjoy the capabilities of iPod on their own systems?
Mr. Landwehr: I know better than to expect any particular behavior out of an audience that is passionate about both music and technology–there are a lot of factors leading people to choose one device over another. I do know for certain that we are inundated with emails and calls from a sizable group of Windows users who are anxious to add iPod to their arsenal of digital devices, so I expect the reaction of the Windows world to be both positive and substantial.
My Mac: What pricing have you set for the XPlay software?
Mr. Landwehr: Pricing for XPlay has not yet been determined, but we don’t foresee it being any more than US$40.
My Mac: When do you expect the final version of XPlay to hit the shelves?
Mr. Landwehr: XPlay will ship in Q1 of 2002. We don’t yet have a specific date.
My Mac: You’ve spoken of MacDrive technology. Can you provide us with background on MacDrive software and the pricing of this product?
Mr. Landwehr: Many software packages are available for both Windows and Macintosh, but few provide an easy way to get the documents you create from a Windows PC to Macintosh and back. MacDrive is the simple and seamless way to share your documents between Windows and Mac OS. Because MacDrive makes Mac disks of nearly all kinds work just like any other disks, you can copy, open, save, delete and rename files on Mac disks, all from Windows. You can even format Mac disks from Windows, so it’s a great tool even for sending Windows files to Mac users. MacDrive is available directly from Mediafour and through mail order catalogs and some retail outlets for $49.95.
My Mac: Where do you see the direction of computing going? Will there be an indistinguishable merging of Mac and Windows users down the road?
Mr. Landwehr: Not likely, and mostly because few people want that. Competition is good, and everyone, including Apple and Microsoft, benefits from the battle. Mac OS and Windows XP look very similar, but it really is only skin-deep. Those deep-down differences are going to continue to attract a variety of software developers and end-users for a variety of purposes, and keep the competition rolling.
My Mac: Where do you see Apple heading in the future?
Mr. Landwehr: Wherever the public’s needs and desires lead them. Steve Jobs is exceptionally good at figuring out what it is that people really want–whether they realize it already or not–and Apple is good at giving them the technology to make it happen. I’ve personally been a big fan of Apple for more than twenty years, and continue to imagine a positive future for the company.
My Mac: Where do you see Mediafour heading in the future?
Mr. Landwehr: People quite naturally and reasonably expect computers to be able to do certain things, but sometimes operating systems and software applications fall a bit short for users’ purposes. As we’ve done with MacDrive and XPlay, Mediafour will continue to make products that help fill in the gaps in computing.
My Mac: Mr. Landwehr, it has been a real pleasure to speak with you. Thank you.
For those readers who may be interested in further information on XPlay or MacDrive, check out Mediafour’s website.