Napster CEO has pointed the finger at Microsoft as part of the reason it has not been successful competing against Apple’s iTunes. “There is no question that their execution has been less than brilliant over the last 12 months,” the article quotes Napster CEO and Chairman as saying.

The real reason is probably closer to this comment by an anonymous Real Networks spokesman: “Apple set the bar … it just worked. That’s one of the things – it’s hard to make it easy and easy to make it hard.”

Napster seems to have three customer models, only two of which are easily visible on its website. Both are subscription models, which are inherently unpopular. As expected, the fine print at the bottom of the page says “* It is necessary to maintain a Napster Membership in order to continue access to songs downloaded through the Napster service.” (No more pay = no more play). But both subscription models have X’s in the box next to “Buy music to keep forever, burn and transfer” (Huh?)

The more intuitively palatable “Napster light” 99c music store — a 99c per track download service that seems to mirror iTunes — is nowhere easily to be browsed. (Three products, but only two tabs.) Only a small print “You can get Napster Light when you download and register for Napster” reveals how to get it, which suggests that the reason they are not drawing attention to it is that they prefer you to take up the subscription model.

And this rigmarole is coupled with a fairly clunky site, and of course the requisite clunky WMV music players with often-awkward interfaces. Compare it with the simple, slick (and in some cases one click) download in ITMS. No contest. Three words sum it up: “easy to use”. Perhaps four, if you add “very” at the beginning. Apple has had over 22 years experience making difficult tech very easy to use, and they are exceptionally good at it. (nb: I’m only going back to Mac here; arguably I should include the Lisa too, and possibly even the Apple ][)

And the cognoscenti know that WMV format is going to be heavily encumbered with DRM, as opposed to the very lightly encumbered AAC format on ITMS (basically the bare minimum the music industry would allow). Plus Napster is “PC only”, locking out those who use Macs.

End result – ITMS is a simple experience, and you don’t feel like you will lose all your (downloaded) music if you decide to stop paying $14.95 or $9.95 per month. (This looms as something users take seriously, given comments on any number of bulletin boards.) This is not true for Napster. No real need to bring Microsoft into the picture.