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End of the line for Sony's Atrac?

Sony Connect will stop selling music by March 2008, suggesting the end of the line for the company's Atrac format.

Sony's years-long effort to promote its Atrac audio encoding format appears to be coming to an end.

Sony's known for creating proprietary formats rather than adopting formats developed elsewhere. Many other companies--Microsoft in particular--do the same thing, but Sony sometimes seems to cling to its technologies long past the date where it makes business sense. Sony invented Atrac for its MiniDisc, but as MP3 players became popular, Sony tried to push the format into the new world of discless players. Those first Sony portable players didn't support MP3. This helped a down-on-its-luck company with no consumer electronics experience to take the portable music market away from the company that invented the Walkman. By the time Sony began rolling MP3 support into its portable players in late 2004, Apple's iPod had a huge lead.

Sony Connect, the company's online music service, was plagued by problems: The first version of the service suffered from a poor interface, and a relaunch plan was jammed by immature technology and internal politics. But it was also a legacy of Sony's lock-in strategy--like Apple (and more recently, Microsoft), Sony wanted its store to work only with its players and software (SonicStage). Hence, Connect sold files in the Atrac format. Instead of achieving lock-in, this merely helped Sony's portable music products achieve irrelevance.

Earlier this summer, rumors surfaced that Sony was going to kill the service, but then Sony quashed those rumors. Now, continuing a recent trend started with Sony Ericsson phones and seen with some other Sony players, Sony announced a new line of video Walkmans that will not support Atrac, but will support MP3, Windows Media Audio and AAC. And as Engadget reports, the company quietly acknowledged that it's phasing Sony Connect out by next year.