Newsflash – There’s a growing segment of computer users that hate Microsoft. “Baked-in” DRM is giving more users a reason to hate Microsoft.
Over the weekend I spent some time catching up on the great Gutmann Vista DRM debate (in the red corner we have Peter Gutmann, while in the blue corner we have George Ou and Ed Bott – if you want the background to this story follow these links, but not before you’ve put a If you’re firmly opposed to DRM then paying Microsoft to add it to your software is a bit like an animal lover finding out that they’ve paid to have a baby seal clubbed on their behalfpot of coffee on, drunk it and then brewed a second one). One thing that’s become clear to me from the comments left by readers in the TalkBack section of these posts is that there’s a growing dislike of DRM, in particular DRM that’s embedded into operating systems, especially DRM built into Windows (it appears that Apple users are harder to work up into a frenzy about DRM).
Think what you want of HDCP DRM and ICT flags, this technology is here and it’s here to stay (for the time being at any rate). The issue doesn’t seem to be that the technology exists (people who feel strongly opposed to it can choose to avoid it); the issue is that Microsoft has embedded this technology into Windows Vista, thus seemingly giving it the stamp of approval. Not only that, but when people look at the bottom line price that they are expected to pay for Vista, they begin to wonder how much of that cost comes down to support for DRM in one form or another. If you’re firmly opposed to DRM then paying Microsoft to add it to your software is a bit like an animal lover finding out that they’ve paid to have a baby seal clubbed on their behalf.
I’m no fan of DRM (I buy DVDs and audio books from Audible.com but beyond that I try to limit my exposure to DRM thanks to being bitten in the butt by it a few times in the past), but I also recognize that it offers content providers both with new revenues streams and improved ways to enforce copyright. DRM also allows companies to “rent” digital content, thus making access t the content cheaper. My issue with DRM isn’t that it’s used, it’s that content providers don’t make DRM limitations clear to customers. But those are my views, and these views don’t apply to others. For some, buying and using an operating system that incorporates DRM is something that they don’t want to do. The bundling of DRM with Windows is seen as Microsoft giving content providers, MPAA, RIAA, the government, the man (delete as appropriate) far too much power and is paving the way for heavily DRMed content to become the norm.
Personally, I think that Microsoft needs to be careful because it is increasingly being seen as a pro-DRM company. While it’s safe to say that for many DRM is a non-issue (most don’t see it, and of those that do, many don’t care about it), for a growing segment of users (especially power users), DRM is being seen as a way for big business to have increasing control over how PCs are being used. People who want to avoid this level of control are shunning Windows for open source platforms.
So why has Microsoft embedded DRM such as HDCP into Windows and not offered it as a separate download or plug-in? The plain and simple truth is that this kind of DRM is too complex to be supported through a separate download. The days of copyright enforcement being just a few words flashed up at the beginning of a movie are numbered, copyright enforcement mechanisms are not only being embedded into the content, but deeply into the hardware and software that make up new PCs. About the only way you can avoid exposure to it is to stick with old hardware and software. Open source only means that your software can be free of the stuff.