Linspire Chief To Launch DRM-Less Music Service

Former chief and Linspire CEO Michael Robertson will reenter the music world next week with MP3tunes, a service that promises music without DRM restrictions.

The announcement will be made next week at the Linspire Desktop Summit, where a new VOIP company, SwitchVox, will also be launched. Robertson’s other venture, SIPphone, will also introduce a $39 device designed to facilitate Internet calling, Robertson said.

Robertson built into one of the premier Internet destinations for music in the late 1990s, as Napster was nearing its peak. In April 2000, however, a U.S. district court ruled that the service violated copyright law by allowing CDs to be downloaded. Robertson sold to Vivendi Universal, who later sold it to CNET Networks. Legal MP3 downloads withered until Apple Computer resuscitated the market with its iTunes service, which offers some restrictions on copying the song using digital-rights-management techniques.

To Robertson, such restrictions are anathema. “I think [DRM] is a problem; I’ve made no bones about it,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m not a fan of DRM. I think it penalizes paying customers. If you can get music from file sharing networks and pay nothing, and then get it from the record guys with a pair of handcuffs attached…I think it’s awful.”

I could go for that.

Do people really buy Linspire in large enough numbers that the company makes money?

At one point, Wal-Mart was selling Lindows/Linspire machines. I’m not sure if they still do, but that was/is probably the only way to make money with a product like that to date: get it in the big chains preloaded on dirt cheap computers. People who are knowledgeable about Linux will just download Fedora, Mandrake, Debian or whatever for free. People who aren’t will use Windows. But somewhere there’s a market for crappy computers that cost $100 less than the competition solely because you’re paying $50 for Linspire instead of $150 for Windows or a shiny Apple logo.

At any rate, if Michael Robertson is still worth anything, it’s because he sold at exactly the right time, not because of anything Linspire has done.