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Why Vista's DRM Is Bad For You
Forbes Magazine ^ | 02/12/2007 | Bruce Scheiner

Posted on 02/14/2007 6:27:10 PM PST by Swordmaker

Windows Vista includes an array of "features" that you don't want. These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure. They'll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features won't do anything useful. In fact, they're working against you. They're digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry.

And you don't get to refuse them.

The details are pretty geeky, but basically Microsoft has reworked a lot of the core operating system to add copy protection technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. Certain high-quality output paths--audio and video--are reserved for protected peripheral devices. Sometimes output quality is artificially degraded; sometimes output is prevented entirely. And Vista continuously spends CPU time monitoring itself, trying to figure out if you're doing something that it thinks you shouldn't. If it does, it limits functionality and in extreme cases restarts just the video subsystem. We still don't know the exact details of all this, and how far-reaching it is, but it doesn't look good.

Microsoft put all those functionality-crippling features into Vista because it wants to own the entertainment industry. This isn't how Microsoft spins it, of course. It maintains that it has no choice, that it's Hollywood that is demanding DRM in Windows in order to allow "premium content"--meaning, new movies that are still earning revenue--onto your computer. If Microsoft didn't play along, it'd be relegated to second-class status as Hollywood pulled its support for the platform.

It's all complete nonsense. Microsoft could have easily told the entertainment industry that it was not going to deliberately cripple its operating system, take it or leave it. With 95% of the operating system market, where else would Hollywood go? Sure, Big Media has been pushing DRM, but recently some--Sony after their 2005 debacle and now EMI Group--are having second thoughts.

What the entertainment companies are finally realizing is that DRM just annoys their customers. Like every other DRM system ever invented, Microsoft's won't keep the professional pirates from making copies of whatever they want. The DRM security in Vista was broken the day it was released. Sure, Microsoft will patch it, but the patched system will get broken as well. It's an arms race, and the defenders can't possibly win.

I believe that Microsoft knows this and also knows that it doesn't matter. This isn't about stopping pirates and the small percentage of people who download free movies from the Internet. This isn't even about Microsoft satisfying its Hollywood customers at the expense of those of us paying for the privilege of using Vista. This is about the overwhelming majority of honest users and who owns the distribution channels to them. And while it may have started as a partnership, in the end Microsoft is going to end up locking the movie companies into selling content in its proprietary formats.

We saw this trick before; Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) pulled it on the recording industry. First iTunes worked in partnership with the major record labels to distribute content, but soon Warner Music's CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. found that he wasn't able to dictate a pricing model to Steve Jobs. The same thing will happen here; after Vista is firmly entrenched in the marketplace, Sony's Howard Stringer won't be able to dictate pricing or terms to Bill Gates. This is a war for 21st-century movie distribution and, when the dust settles, Hollywood won't know what hit them.

To be fair, just last week Steve Jobs publicly came out against DRM for music. It's a reasonable business position, now that Apple controls the online music distribution market. But Jobs never mentioned movies, and he is the largest single shareholder in Disney. Talk is cheap. The real question is would he actually allow iTunes Music Store purchases to play on Microsoft or Sony players, or is this just a clever way of deflecting blame to the--already hated--music labels.

Microsoft is reaching for a much bigger prize than Apple: not just Hollywood, but also peripheral hardware vendors. Vista's DRM will require driver developers to comply with all kinds of rules and be certified; otherwise, they won't work. And Microsoft talks about expanding this to independent software vendors as well. It's another war for control of the computer market.

Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing to do with copyright.

I don't see the market righting this wrong, because Microsoft's monopoly position gives it much more power than we consumers can hope to have. It might not be as obvious as Microsoft using its operating system monopoly to kill Netscape and own the browser market, but it's really no different. Microsoft's entertainment market grab might further entrench its monopoly position, but it will cause serious damage to both the computer and entertainment industries. DRM is bad, both for consumers and for the entertainment industry: something the entertainment industry is just starting to realize, but Microsoft is still fighting. Some researchers think that this is the final straw that will drive Windows to the competition, but I think the courts are necessary.

In the meantime, the only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade to Vista. It will be hard. Microsoft's bundling deals with computer manufacturers mean that it will be increasingly hard not to get the new operating system with new computers. And Microsoft has some pretty deep pockets and can wait us all out if it wants to. Yes, some people will shift to Macintosh and some fewer number to Linux, but most of us are stuck on Windows. Still, if enough customers say no to Vista, the company might actually listen.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Computers/Internet
KEYWORDS: drm; microsoft; monopoly; vista

1 posted on 02/14/2007 6:27:12 PM PST by Swordmaker
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To: Swordmaker

Microsoft has already said that Vista's successor is projected to be released in 2009. Make enough noise now, and Microsoft might actually remove the DRM.


2 posted on 02/14/2007 6:29:09 PM PST by Terpfen (Got a problem? It's now Pelosi's fault!)
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To: Swordmaker

I will avoid Vista like the plague. Everything works okay without it, so why would I want to change anything?


3 posted on 02/14/2007 6:29:39 PM PST by TommyDale (Who do you trust? An ex-mayor? Or the ranking member of the House Committee on Armed Services?)
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To: Swordmaker
I guess that Windows Vista is starting to look like the Old Soviet Union.

Once you are in...you can't get out and everything you do is restricted and watched by the Directorates.
And they only operate in ways that benefit their masters who sit in cushy dacha sipping tea by the fire while counting their piles of rubles.

4 posted on 02/14/2007 6:44:06 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Res firma mitescere nescit.)
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To: Terpfen

...or just refuse to buy Vista.

The way I see it, the more people refuse to "upgrade" to Vista, the more MS is going to hurt. Eventually, the lost profits will get to the point that MS will remove it precisely because it is severely hurting their business.

In other words, MS will just have to say too damn bad to RIAA, MPAA, and all the other greedy, sue-happy "entertainment" groups out there.

Money does talk, and it has a loud voice, particularly when it comes from your customers.


5 posted on 02/14/2007 6:45:09 PM PST by rzeznikj at stout (Boldly Going Nowhere...)
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To: rdb3; chance33_98; Calvinist_Dark_Lord; Bush2000; PenguinWry; GodGunsandGuts; CyberCowboy777; ...

6 posted on 02/14/2007 6:52:22 PM PST by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: TommyDale
Everything works okay without it, so why would I want to change anything?

Because it won't stay that way? Don't get me wrong. I want nothing to do with Vista, but eventually for one reason or another (work, most likely), I'll have to use it. If you are fortunate to be in a position to go all Mac, all Solaris, all BSD, or all Linux, good for you. Most people, whether ordinary joes or IT guys, aren't in that position.

7 posted on 02/14/2007 7:05:34 PM PST by Seņor Zorro ("The ability to speak does not make you intelligent"--Qui-Gon Jinn)
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To: TommyDale
"why would I want to change anything?"

You wouldn't be changing much if you did upgrade to Vista. Aside from the horror described in the article, the only obvious difference is it's allot prettier and has a few under the hood security enhancements that will doubtlessly be cracked over time. It also loves to ask you questions. The only things I found myself really liking about it are the sidebar/gadgets, the new navigation with the address bar, and the Aero(spelling)theme.

8 posted on 02/14/2007 7:25:13 PM PST by KoRn
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To: rzeznikj at stout; Terpfen; ShadowAce; Seņor Zorro; Swordmaker
> ...or just refuse to buy Vista. The way I see it, the more people refuse to "upgrade" to Vista, the more MS is going to hurt. Eventually, the lost profits will get to the point that MS will remove it precisely because it is severely hurting their business.

Won't work.

As of this past Jan 30, all BestBuy, Staples, etc. outlets have NOTHING BUT VISTA for sale on new computers. XP retail CDs are going like hotcakes because folks like us know XP is doomed within another month or two.

Face it, Vista is the future of PC computing. Microsoft is not going to be hurting at all.

I've got a Linux (FC4) box, and a Mac Mini (Tiger), and a Windows XP-Pro box. (Vista might run on the XP box, but I'm not going to find out.) Linux is my platform of choice.

So what. Look, we're in the vast minority. Within one year, Vista will have taken over 40% of PCs, and within two years, nothing but Vista will run the latest software being sold, and it'll be on 75% of PCs.

I hate to say that, but it's gonna happen. Prepare your alternatives now, if it's not already too late.

9 posted on 02/14/2007 7:26:28 PM PST by dayglored (Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!)
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To: Swordmaker
It's another war for control of the computer market.

Computers, hell! It's an attempt to gang-ify entire segments of the electronics industry (A/V, gaming, networking). I'm typically an MS supporter but they are really barking up an entire forest of wrong trees.

The last quarter century has been amazing in retrospect. Competing entities have set standards (i.e., CD) and allowed any and all companies to produce goods that adhere to the standard, or there are IEEE standards that all makers follow. The result has been high-quality, high-availability and high-interoperability all at low(er) cost! It is the epitome of the free market working for the betterment of all and should be an object lesson to all junior socialists who think capitalism equates to Pinkerton guards harrassing longshoremen.

Now, obviously, Microsoft wants to call the tune AND limit the number of dancers on the floor via a new set of 'standards' (read: proprietary technology). This isn't some Hardware Compatibility List, this is time-bomb and/or format-bomb sabotage of equipment and interfaces you've already bought and paid for. A bad idea all round and not the best of starts for the Ballmer regime.

10 posted on 02/14/2007 9:02:51 PM PST by relictele
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Comment #11 Removed by Moderator

To: Swordmaker
One, of many, reasons why my next computer will be a Mac. But what is the worst part of this whole situation is that the one who get's screwed is the consumer of content. Have there been any lawsuits by consumers on "Big Movies" and "Big Music" for infringing on fair use rights? And they all sit around and wonder why sales and profits continue to slide:

EMI Cuts Profit Forecast as U.S. Music Sales Slump

Warner Music profit drops on slow sales

12 posted on 02/15/2007 5:10:20 AM PST by Wyatt's Torch (I can explain it to you. I can't understand it for you.)
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To: Wyatt's Torch
Have there been any lawsuits by consumers on "Big Movies" and "Big Music" for infringing on fair use rights?

No, because that's now how it works. The user exercises those rights, the copyright owner sues, the copyright owner loses. Unfortunately, most people can't afford to stand up for their fair use rights against a multibillion dollar corporation.

And they all sit around and wonder why sales and profits continue to slide:

Ever thought that the slump in sales is because most of what they produce is junk? Or maybe other economic reasons? A recent study in the Journal of Political Economy said "...we find that file sharing has had no statistically significant effect on purchases of the average album in our sample."

13 posted on 02/15/2007 11:31:35 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: Wyatt's Torch

uh, "not how it works." Sorry.


14 posted on 02/15/2007 11:37:23 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: Swordmaker
The attempt by Vista to lockdown peripherals is ultimately a maginot line that can be bypassed by techniques such as a Blue Pill hypervisor.
15 posted on 02/15/2007 7:43:36 PM PST by 6SJ7
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