The Downward Trend of Computer and Software Design

by Mike Shea on 15 January 2007

This article about how Microsoft handles digital rights management in Windows Vista makes me want to either grab a pitchfork or jump out a window or both.

Last night I spent an hour manually rebuilding all of the playlists I had on my iPod Nano that I couldn't copy back over to my new PC. I had all the music on both devices, but aparently copying over the playlists so I knew what tracks were in each of my play lists would violate some regulation the RIAA passed through our corrupt congress. More likely it was just a casulty in Apple's decision to not permit copying out of files from a Nano back to a PC.

This situation is only going to get worse. Check out this executive summary:

"Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called "premium content", typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources. Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it's not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server). This document analyses the cost involved in Vista's content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry."

It's easy enough to just say "screw 'Premium' content, I'll just watch my DVDs and listen to my mp3s, F you very much." until you realize that your hardware and software for everything is now going to be built around the DRM instructions of Hollywood and the Music Industry. They don't care if your machine runs like shit because its constantly checking to see if you're bypassing its delicate DRM connections. They don't care that you have to buy a thousand dollars worth of hardware to do the same stuff you did five years ago. They don't care if your entire music collection disappears because some piece of software converted all of your mp3s into DRM-enriched propriatary formats. They don't care if you lose all of the movies and TV shows you bought through iTunes because you DIDN'T want to steal it.

Microsoft makes out because they get to sell Vista to unsuspecting consumers. The hardware vendors make out because they get to sell more powerful hardware with more powerful pricetags to do the same stuff they did years ago. The music and movie industry makes out by selling you the same content over and over again. The consumers just get screwed and seem not to care at all.

I'm betting in five years or so when people start to upgrade their machines and realize they're going to lose all of their music and videos, that then it will be clear how evil DRM really is. Until then it appears to be too complicated a topic for most people to grasp.

I own an Xbox 360 that is more than capable of streaming video from my PC but I use iTunes to get that video so I get nothing. I can go spend another $300 on the iTV to watch my itunes stuff but I'd basically be buying the same hardware twice for the same purpose.

Imagine if DVDs worked this way. Imagine that Sony DVDs only played on Sony players and Paramount DVDs only played on Toshiba players. How pissed off will you be then? Now imagine that three fourths of the cost of your computers and electronics are going to the power and technology needed to protect the content providers from you, a consumer who just wants to watch Stealth in peace.

Let's end with a happy quote:

"As a user, there is simply no escape. Whether you use Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 95, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, Solaris (on x86), or almost any other OS, Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems. Because Windows dominates the market and device vendors are unlikely to design and manufacture two different versions of their products, non-Windows users will be paying for Windows Vista content-protection measures in products even if they never run Windows on them."