foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

The problems with Vista DRM (and why you should care even if you like Vista and/or Microsoft)

, posted: 18-Dec-2007 09:43

A very interesting posting on Slashdot here, in which someone gives a good summary of the reasons why the DRM in Vista is truly a bad thing. I'm not running Vista myself, so I can't confirm each technical point he makes about what exactly is restricted and what not (even though it does sound quite scary). But there are a few items that are quite clear and troublesome:
The [DRM] technologies above mean two things that I care about and which most other people here care about. The first concerns the ability to write software for Windows. Vista is so designed that only approved software can access certain content. It will be a poorer software world if only commercial projects paying their tithe to Microsoft can make full use of the operating system and its content.
That is true. Even the proponents of proprietary software cannot deny the benefitial effect of open source software on the competitive landscape. Many proprietary software vendors, Microsoft included, can get substantial competition from the open source camp and thus are required to improve their software further. Case in point: IE was not developed any more once it had 'won the browser war'. Only the arrival and strengthening of Firefox prompted Microsoft to finally bring out a new version of IE. So, if you are enjoying the latest incarnation of IE today, you can thank Firefox for it. Open source is benefitial to everyone, even the users of closed software. Having a means that restricts competition by open software is truly a problem that we should all be concerned about.

And then this here:
DRM is an inherently closed system .... Therefore, by encouraging content companies to sell only in DRM format (and DRM is pointless if you don't), they prevent other OS's or devices from any legal means to purchase the same content.
As a user of Linux this does concern me quite a bit. DRM in all its forms is almost completely incompatible with any open software or an open mindset, since it can only be reliably implemented (in software) via obscurity. You have to hide the way it works, since otherwise it can be trivially circumvented. This implies closed software, which in turn has all the usual disadvantages. And if all (or most) media is infected with DRM then this locks out competition by open systems.

I was always wondering why Microsoft was apparently being so subservient to the large media companies, bogging down its OS and users with all this DRM stuff, which doesn't help anyone at all. But this comment here really made it clear: DRM cannot be implemented in open software (since it's broken by design), and thus it will always remain closed. The more media is DRM infected the more people are forced to run Windows in order to enjoy movies and such. People end up locked into Vista and won't be able to use Linux and other open OSs as an alternative. What a clever move by Microsoft. It all makes sense now.

What baffles me the most: DRM's ONLY purpose in live is to restrict the rights of users and what you can do with what you bought (your hardware and your media). Why on earth would anyone voluntarily pay money for that? There is no logical reason for this at all, which is why Microsoft is selling Vista by promoting its bling and added 'security'. That's a bit like a trojan horse that is installed: You get an e-mail that promises to be one thing, and then gives you a load of something entirely different. So in the case of Vista, the DRM is shoved onto your computer like the malware in a trojan horse.

And just like malware authors like to assemble an army of zombie machines over which they gain control in that manner, Microsoft likes to assemble an army of DRM DISabled computer users. They then don't have to do anything with them, though. The media companies will do the rest: They will only release DRM infected media, and so more end-users will buy Vista because that's where they can watch their movies, and so on and so forth.


Other related posts:
PC World: Move your business to Linux, not Vista
And you thought your computer would do what YOU wanted...
The great 'Windows collapse' of 2011?

Comment by grant_k, on 18-Dec-2007 10:14

Thanks once again Foobar for another thought-provoking article.

DRM is another big nail in Vista's coffin so far as I am concerned. I agree: Why would anyone WANT to pay money to install this DRM-infested piece of sh1t on their PC

Comment by freitasm, on 18-Dec-2007 11:35

As someone commented in the original . link you posted:

"Vista has to detect your audio as "copyrighted" or your audio has to have some form of DRM to work.

Hrmm I have 20GB of MP3's none of which are pirated or bought online, does vista stop me playing them, converting them, writing them, transfering them or doing any of the things I couldn't do before in XP? The Answer is no, I still rip my music CD's in Windows Media Player and then sync them to my phone through windows media player, I can still find my PC over the network and copy music files onto my PS3, I can even still write my own compilations.

SO yes the fact there is a DRM scheme in place is a bad thing, but since I have no intention of buying DRM'd songs from online this makes no difference in my user expearence.

The DRM support is there, if a file doesn't want to use it, then guess what? It doesn't have to!!!"

The fact DRM is implemented on the OS is just making it full of bloat. Content distribution companies still have to flag the content as DRM-protected, effectively making it incompatible with other OSes around.

Or are you trying to say that if Microsoft never implemented a DRM scheme on its platform, media companies wouldn't implement DRM protection on their media?

I have news for you! iTunes is DRM-protected too. And they dominate the digital distribution market and the media player market. Why not crusade against that too?

Author's note by foobar, on 18-Dec-2007 12:50

@freitasm: It's great that your non-pirated mp3s still work. Do they have DRM in them? No, I didn't think so. You rip your CDs, but are those the latest and greatest, with all the latest DRM features 'enabled'? If so, you should find it harder to do so, if not impossible, because exactly this kind of activity is what DRM is designed to make impossible.

Once DRM technology becomes ubiquitous in the form of the OS that is used by most people, media companies can happily distribute media only with all DRM fully enabled. The fact that right now this is not so, and that right now you still have some freedoms left should not lead you to believe that this is always going to stay that way.

You have no intention of buying songs with DRM in it. What if one day you wouldn't have a choice in that matter, and all songs only come with DRM in them?

"effectively making it incompatible with other OSs around"

Exactly! You made my point exactly. That's what Microsoft wants to happen. So they make DRM 'easy' on Windows ('easy' for the content companies). They start shipping it all with DRM enabled, and thus it won't run on Linux anymore. Good for Microsoft!

"Or are you trying to say that if Microsoft never implemented a DRM scheme on its platform, media companies wouldn't implement DRM protection on their media?"

But see, why should they still implement their own, if they can just utilise the ubiquitous DRM features in the market dominant OS? It just works so nicely. Plug-and-play DRM. Why bother going through another Sony root-kit disaster?

"I have news for you! iTunes is DRM-protected too..."

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but that's not news to me.

"And they dominate the digital distribution market and the media player market. Why not crusade against that too?"

Apple is in the content business much more so than Microsoft. In some sort of perverse way it is almost understandable why Apple would use DRM, even though I completely disagree with the strategy.

Microsoft is not in that business. Instead, they just use DRM as a weapon against the only true competition they have to fear: Open systems and operating systems. Since I am much more worried about the fate of open systems than about the ability to listen to some popular music, I have to take much more objection with Microsofts tactic.

Just because Apple does something bad doesn't make the actions of Microsoft any more agreeable. And honestly, Apple doesn't matter in the larger scheme of things very much. Microsoft has the market dominating position, so they deserve hightened levels of scrutiny.

Comment by William, on 18-Dec-2007 13:30

freitasm seems fortunate that their song collection still works in Vista. I know people who purchased an upgrade from XP to Vista and went through the process only to find that their collection (ripped in XP from original CD's) no longer worked in Vista.

I think they had ripped to WMA though - which is DRM-infected by default. Go DRM!! :-|

Comment by tonyhughes, on 18-Dec-2007 13:38

Good article.... keep em coming!

Comment by barf, on 18-Dec-2007 16:30

I have some news for you foobar and you may not like it.
Linux is used to enforce DRM restrictions in many cellphones and a consortium exists to further Linux's use in DRM-enabled devices. So before going overboard in your description of Vista's succumbance to DRM remember that Linux is even for vulnerable to invensted interests manilpulating systems to their own ends.

Author's note by foobar, on 18-Dec-2007 17:05

@barf: Yeah, sad, isn't it? But let me ask you: Is Linux the OS and there is some DRM-enforcing application running on it? Or is it Linux itself that is somehow, magically enforcing the DRM?

My guess is the former. Why? Because Linux is under GPL. If there are changes (additions) made to Linux itself, those changes will have to be published. And if the DRM code is published ... well, then it wouldn't be so secret anymore, right?

So, my guess is that the DRM code itself just happens to be an app running under Linux. Therefore, saying that Linux is enforcing the DRM is a bit of an exaggeration, isn't it?

Now compare that with Vista, which has those things literally built in and bolted on tightly... No comparison.

Comment by grant_k, on 18-Dec-2007 20:05

Freitasm: "I have news for you! iTunes is DRM-protected too. And they dominate the digital distribution market and the media player market. Why not crusade against that too?"

We all know that iTunes has DRM protection Mauricio. However, you also have to give Steve Jobs some credit for leading the move towards DRM-free music. It is largely through his efforts that various Music Publishers have now removed DRM from their music and you can now buy DRM-free tracks from iTunes, albeit for a price.

For myself, I have never bought any music from iTunes, and have no intention of doing so. It is still too proprietary for my liking.

Instead I am a regular customer of Amazon's MP3 Digital Download service. All of these tracks are either 256kbps or 320kbps i.e. full CD quality and they are in MP3 format which is pretty much nirvana in my book as far as digital music is concerned.

At US 89c or 99c per track, or US$8.99 for an entire album, why would I ever buy physical CDs again?

Amazon has the competition licked so far as I am concerned. Digirama does support local artists well, but their selection is very limited compared to Amazon and it still has DRM, so I don't intend to buy any music there again unless there is no alternative.

My 2c worth anyway...

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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