The real issue with Windows Vista will be its DRM implementation.

One of the things Windows Vista will be bringing with it that I’m very concerned about is a DRM content protection system. Microsoft has really bent over backwards to try and please the Hollywood studios by implementing a very draconian DRM model that will have some pretty serious impacts on not only what high-def media you can play on your PC, but how well your system performs and who can develop hardware and software for your PC.

Security Researcher Peter Gutmann has written a very good article that’s been making the rounds for awhile now called A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection that’s worth reading if you want to be filled in on what Vista has in store:

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.

Executive Executive Summary

The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.

If you prefer to listen rather than read about this topic then you’ll be interested in a podcast by Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte over at Twit.TV in which Leo and Steve interview Peter Gutmann about his paper. Actually it’s a pretty good podcast so check it out even if you’ve read the paper.

The PC I built this past year will not be able to play high-def content under Windows Vista at full resolution because my card is not HDMI compliant nor is my monitor and it’s unlikely that I’ll bother upgrading either one of them anytime soon just to play high-def content. I’d love to be able to play high-def content on my PC, but I’m not that enamored with it that I’m willing to spend the extra money on the hardware it would take to be able to do so. The irony, of course, is that all this DRM is likely to actually increase the number of people who turn to pirated content in the long run. The simple fact is that high-def protection will be cracked—in fact some aspects such as HDMI already has been—so unprotected high-def content will invariably end up on the net. None of this is going to stop pirated high-def content and the people it’s most likely to hurt are the folks who actually try to play by the rules.

What’s particularly ironic about all of this is that in a recent interview Bill Gates pretty much said he doesn’t think much of DRM himself:

Gates didn’t get into what could replace DRM, but he did give some reasonably candid insights suggesting that he thinks DRM is as lame as the rest of us.

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”

He ended by saying “DRM is not where it should be, but you won’t get me to say that there should be usage models and different payment models for usage. At the end of the day, incentive systems do make a difference, but we don’t have it right with incentives or interoperability.” – Source: TechCrunch

One is left to wonder why, if Gates thinks DRM in its current form sucks, Microsoft has been so gung-ho on implementing DRM in Windows Vista.

11 thoughts on “The real issue with Windows Vista will be its DRM implementation.

  1. I read that entire article and, well, damn, Les. Thanks for bringing all of this to my attention. I was already less than enamored with Vista to begin with, but the content of that piece cemented my firm opposition to its user-unfriendly nonsense. As one who uses my PC primarily for gaming, many of the content restrictions don’t affect me too much (I’ve never used any of my computers as media centers, because, as he says in the aricle, I can buy dedicated media players for far less), but I was very bothered by the “tilt bits” and driver revocation crap, not to mention my inability to effectively build my own system or even upgrade without significant problems. And what would happen should games be declared “premium content” along with HD stuff?

    Gamers are really kind of screwed either way: they upgrade to Vista and have to put up with less-than-optimum equipment that is more expensive and a pain to install, use, and keep running reliably, or stay with XP and completely miss out on games that run on DirectX 10.

    And what’s most insulting and infuriating, I think, is Microsoft’s assumption that they can, essentially, come into my home and tell me what I can and cannot do with my own private property, lest I accidentally leech one thousandth of a cent of revenue from their precious content providers.

    Okay, I think I’m done. I trust you’ll keep us all posted on further Vista developments?

  2. Thank you Les! After reading the article you linked to and other stuff, I do believe I am going to avoid Vista like the plague. Its bad enough that to get all of the interface stuff to work you have to have just about top of the line hardware and loads of memeory, but to have the operating system insist on special features for different components so that I can watch/listen to things I have legally bought is just to much. I hope this version of windows turns out to be similar to ME so that Microsoft fixes it and gets it right with the next version of Windows. Or maybe I will just have to get off my ass and learn Linux.

  3. I’m going to have to get to know Vista either way because supporting Windows is what I do for a living, but I’m not sure if I’ll put it on every PC in the house. Certainly not anytime in the immediate future. A lot will depend on how it continues to develop. There’s nothing that says Microsoft can’t rip a lot of this crap out of Vista later if it’s acceptance rate isn’t what they were hoping for.

    And of course I’ll continue to talk about Vista. I’m a techno-geek. It’s what I do.

  4. I may have said before that you couldn’t give me free copies of Vista. I may acquire a license with a new PC, but I won’t run it. If it’s true that you can’t get a refund of the Microsoft tax on new PCs and return an unused OEM license, then I’d rather pay some premium on building a PC from components rather than fund Microsoft.

  5. My computer is three years old, but it is doing what I need just fine. How long before the death knell sounds and I MUST replace XP? Should I go to Linux or Vista? Any comments would be appreciated. (I mostly use MS Word and Excell and am trying to edit and burn my digital videos and pictures)

  6. If you have a retail copy of XP, run Linux on a new PC, grab a copy of the free VMware Server or VMware Player, and install XP as a virtual machine for legacy apps and do all your other stuff in Linux.

  7. Thanks, elwed. Can I do that with my 320GB external HD or with my laptop? (my laptop has XP Professional) I would need to format either my desktop or my laptop to act as the new PC. Will XP or XP Professinal install from laptop to PC or from PC to laptop, or will I need to re-install from disc? How about partitioning my HD and running both? (my desktop has 100GB and I’m using only 33 of those)(I have Partition Magic)

  8. Leguru, you can install the VMware stuff on top of an existing XP system. No need to reformat; all you need is enough disk space for the virtual machines you run – I usually use the default 8G for the system disk and add what I need on secondary emulated disks. If you made a mistake, just wipe the VM and start over. If you know you’re about to make a mistake, take a snapshot, observe the carnage, and revert back wink

    Okay, enough of the sales pitch.

    There are free and commercial tools to repartition disks without reinstalling an existing OS. It’s certainly possible to dual-boot Linux and Windows, but if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing and even better, know how to recover from boot problems, I wouldn’t suggest you go there.

  9. Vista seems to keep giving me more reasons to stay away from it.  I think the only reason why I will pick up a copy is if I have to support it.

  10. Leguru, Elwed’s suggestion isn’t a bad one if you want to avoid Vista, but I’m relatively certain that Windows XP still has a couple of years of life in it. Consider the fact that Microsoft didn’t end support for Windows 98 and Windows ME until this past July 11, 2006. That’s almost a full five years after the official launch of Windows XP (October 25, 2001).

    A lot will depend on how quickly Vista catches on, if at all, and how desperate Microsoft gets to try and force the issue. Right now I’d be surprised if XP support were to end before the year 2010.

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