Wednesday, October 13, 2004

DRM Undercurrents

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is heating up to the point where it is now starting to bubble. I have already talked about Laurence Lessig. In the latest Dr. Dobbs, Jerry Pournelle worries about losing his livelihood if DRM is not enforced. Cringely has written a couple of uncharacteristically paranoid columns about Microsoft and DRM.

One Cringely column is about how Microsoft wants to control USB so that information cannot escape from PCs. There are so many other ways that information can leak out of a PC, including CD and DVD writers, and the network connection, that controlling the USB does not seem interesting even if it can be done. On the other hand, the column on Microsoft security is more interesting as it shows one direction that Microsoft could be headed with its next version of the Windows.

The column suggests that Microsoft with its new focus on security is looking to lock down everything on the PC so that content providers can safely distribute their digital goods on Microsoft Windows and get their pound of flesh. Other rumors about Microsoft support this view, and Ballmer himself went out and started dissing the iPod as the music thief's dream. I have always thought of Ballmer as a clown, and this behavior is typical.

When Steve Jobs conceived the iPod, he knew that he had to set up a reasonable system that would satisfy and reassure both the people who want to sell music and the people who want to buy music. So Apple devised their system and went out and sold it to the music labels. For taking this initiative and doing it right, he has earned success and a lot of respect. On the other hand, Microsoft is in too much of a hurry and they have adopted the bully and bluster of their CEO, a style that is guaranteed leave them friendless.

Microsoft is not the only game in town. If they come out with a platform that is so tied up in DRM that it is annoying and difficult to use, they could loose their entire franchise.

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