Amid rootkit fiasco, Sony's ray of hope

Sony's caught red-fingered with another rootkit fiasco. But don't despair, there may be hope for the company yet

For long-term students of technology, Sony rates as one of the most frustrating companies on the planet. Possessed of great vision and corporate stamina, Sony is easily capable of developing world-changing ideas and sticking with them through long periods of doubt and difficulty. The trouble is, it is just as capable of doing exactly the same for concepts of breathtaking stupidity. Like a wayward adolescent that can play concert-grade piano but devotes their time to military-grade World of Warcraft, the results are painful.

As with many a teenage rebel, one also questions the company's ability to learn anything. In 2005, the company put rootkit software on its music CDs, and infected millions of customer PCs with secret spy software. Following the court cases, fines and global embarrassment in 2005, you may have thought a memo would have gone out to all hands saying: "That was a bad thing. Let's not do it again". But no. They have done it again — this time with "security" software provided as part of a biometric USB key.

Oh, Sony. We want to love you, but you hurt us so.

But hold on. There are signs that reality is seeping in, even with just one part of Sony's empire of warring clans. For 15 years, the company has pushed its own music-compression format, ATRAC, to the exclusion or deprecation of MP3. It has its own online music store, Connect, and its own music-management software, SonicStage. All a bit like Apple, except with far more DRM and infinitely less usability or reliability. It really is horrible. And, for 15 years, people have begged Sony to stop. The hardware: lovely. The software: inane.

Sony hasn't listened. Until now. It's all going away, with the company saying that "it's listening to its customers". That may not be entirely accurate — if they're not buying your product, they're not really customers — and there are better ways to go than jumping into bed with Bill, but it's a giant slab of sanity suddenly unearthed in a landscape of ancient madness.

More please. Ditch Memory Stick and UMD. Realise that charging a fortune for repairs and spares means people learn not to buy your products in the first place. And — no more rootkits. Promise?


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