The celebrated cryptographer, who is credited with designing or co-designing several widely used encryption algorithms, is calling on consumers to send a message to Microsoft by avoiding Vista entirely.
"[The] only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade to Vista. It will be hard. Microsoft's bundling deals with computer manufacturers mean that it will be increasingly hard not to get the new operating system with new computers. And Microsoft has some pretty deep pockets and can wait us all out if it wants to. Yes, some people will shift to Macintosh and some fewer number to Linux, but most of us are stuck on Windows. Still, if enough customers say no to Vista, the company might actually listen," Schneier wrote in an essay posted at his personal blog.
His argument is that Microsoft has succumbed to the entertainment industry and built copy-protection (DRM) schemes into the OS that will make computers less stable and force customers to spend to upgrade peripheral hardware and existing software.
Citing a paper by New Zealand computer scientist Peter Gutmann, Schneier said the revamping of the core OS to add copy protection technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks is a move by Microsoft to "own the entertainment industry" while neglecting customers.
[NOTE: Microsoft is disputing these claims. See this post on the official Windows Vista blog that reacts to the Gutmann paper in technical detail.]
This isn't how Microsoft spins it, of course. It maintains that it has no choice, that it's Hollywood that is demanding DRM in Windows in order to allow "premium content"--meaning, new movies that are still earning revenue--onto your computer. If Microsoft didn't play along, it'd be relegated to second-class status as Hollywood pulled its support for the platform.
It's all complete nonsense. Microsoft could have easily told the entertainment industry that it was not going to deliberately cripple its operating system, take it or leave it.
Schneier likened the Windows Vista DRM push to the way Apple used iTunes to dictate the pricing model for digital music. "The same thing will happen here; after Vista is firmly entrenched in the marketplace, Sony's Howard Stringer won't be able to dictate pricing or terms to Bill Gates. This is a war for 21st-century movie distribution and, when the dust settles, Hollywood won't know what hit them," Schneier added.
Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing to do with copyright. I don't see the market righting this wrong, because Microsoft's monopoly position gives it much more power than we consumers can hope to have.