Windows Vista DRM causing concern

A lot of the hoopla surrounding the new Windows Vista operating system (os) is based on it’s new multimedia capabilities. However, people purchasing it to use these enhanced multimedia capabilities to watch high definition or blu-ray dvds or to listen to some audio cds may be in for a very upsetting surprise.

In a disturbing albeit eye-opening white paper detailing a cost analysis of Windows Vista Contect Protection, Peter Gutmann (a Department of Computer Science security engineering researcher at the University of Auckland, New Zealand) details the consequences of Microsoft’s new Digital Rights Management (DRM) cost in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software costs and their affect on Windows Vista users and the computer industry.

Basically the paper explains how a new kind of technology is built into Windows Vista that will take high-definition or blu-ray dvds you purchase as well as audio discs and degrade the play back quality drastically because of the content protection mechanism built in and the Microsoft requirements for drivers. At one point he refers to the new content protection scheme as suicidal.

Per the white paper the new operating system will limit the functionality of certain pieces of hardware such as video cards and monitors from viewing High Definition (HD) content, requires customized device drivers and it requires that vendors of the hardware get the ok from major movie studios such as MGM, 20th Century Fox and Disney.

On top of that, more additional costs will be incurred by vendors of the above mentioned devices because Microsoft disallows a one-size-fits-all design for devices in the new system and it bans the use of add-ons such as TV-out encoders, DVI circuitry and other add-ons since the new system disallows the feeding of unprotected video and audio to external components.

According to the movie studios and Microsoft, that would make it too easy for a user to get around the copy right protected content. As a result, the devices will require a more custom design before being compatible with the new os.

The white paper also details the elimination of open source hardware since Vista will require Hardware Functionality Scan (HFS) (basically a unique fingerprint) to make sure it’s genuine. In order to provide that kind of uniqueness, vendors and developers would not be able to release any details of their devices. If a weakness is found in the drivers or devices, the os will disable it.

A 2Mb word file from Microsoft that details the content protection planned for Vista is available from Ed Felten’s (a professor of computer science at Princeton University) freedom to tinker blog.

The complete white paper by Mr. Gutmann is approximately 6000 words and this article barely touches the highlights. It’s a long and technical read, but the author brings up several good points and a lot of things to think about before jumping into Vista.

In response to Mr. Gutmann’s paper, Microsoft issued a response on their Windows Vista Team blog which, as usual, raises more questions than answers.

Note also that If a user purchases another sound card and installs it, it modifies the hardware profile. If Vista determines then that it’s running on a different computer, you’ll need to reactivate it or it will run in “reduced” mode. Is the new Windows Vista content protection scheme suicidal as this paper explains, or is it much ado about nothing? We’ll find out soon.

Oh yeah…one more thing: If you’re ordering a new computer from one of the several manufacturers, bear in mind that you should still be able to demand one with Windows XP if preferred.

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