Busting the FUD about Vista's DRM

Busting the FUD about Vista's DRM

Summary: Encryption researcher Peter Gutmann of New Zealand says the content protection built into Windows Vista is creating headaches for people trying to view high-definition content they've created. Trouble is, Gutmann doesn't appear to have actually used the OS he's so intent on tearing down. I've got five questions I hope he'll answer when he gets back to his office.

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TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft
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Is it bad reporting, bad research, or something worse?

That’s the question I asked myself when I read this NetworkWorld account of Peter Gutmann’s presentation at the Usenix Security Symposium last week. Gutmann is a researcher in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who specializes in encryption (on his home page, he describes himself as a Professional Paranoid).

Gutmann generated a lot of heat last December with the publication of a paper that called Windows Vista’s Content Protection scheme “the longest suicide note in history.” He updated it in April, mostly to call his critics names, and he updated it yet again yesterday with a top-of-the-page slam at my ZDNet colleague George Ou, who took exception with some of Gutmann’s claims yesterday (see Claim that Vista DRM causes full CPU load and global warming debunked!).

Gutmann has a flair for melodramatic language and headline-grabbing phrases, but his theoretical arguments against Vista’s video subsystem fall apart quickly when they make contact with the real world. Based on Jon Brodkin’s story for NetworkWorld, it appears that Gutmann’s presentation at the Usenix conference was simply a rehash of his earlier claims about Vista and DRM. Specifically, according to Brodkin, Gutmann said:

While Microsoft’s intent is to protect commercial content, home movies are increasingly being shot in high definition, Gutmann said. Many users are finding they can’t play any content if it’s considered “premium.”

“This is not commercial HD content being blocked, this is the users’ own content,” Gutmann said. “The more premium content you have, the more output is disabled.”

I had to read that passage several times to make sure I understood what I was reading, because it directly contradicts my experience with Windows Vista and high-definition content. In fact, it does not appear to be supported by any real-world experience.

So maybe he was misquoted. I wrote to the Usenix Publications Director, Jane-Ellen Long, and asked if she could provide me a copy of Gutmann’s slides. She responded within minutes:

I'm sorry to say Peter hasn't yet given us his slides. You might write to him directly. If you do, could you add that jane-ellen would love to get the slides...

According to the note at the top of Gutmann’s page, he’ll post the slides on his website when he gets back to New Zealand. (And send your slides to Jane-Ellen, too. She needs them to put the proceedings together.) When you do get around to updating your site, Peter, can you please answer these questions as well?

Where’s the demo? I was disappointed to read that your Usenix presentation consisted of 132 PowerPoint slides. You’d think by this point you could actually have put together a video clip or even a live demo of the issues you’re talking about. Have you actually seen the issues you describe, or is this discussion completely theoretical?

Where’s your research? I have seen nothing in any of your writing to indicate that you’ve actually performed experiments using Windows Vista to confirm the theoretical arguments you make. In fact, in an April update to the original paper from last December, responding to Microsoft’s critique of your complaints, you wrote: "Can others confirm this? I don't run Vista yet, but if this is true..." The final release of Vista has been available for more than nine months, and HDCP-compatible video cards are available at a wide range of price points, including sub-US$50 models. So it shouldn’t be a burden to actually test this stuff.

Earlier this year, I sat down to write an analysis of the original paper. I literally lost count of the number of gross errors that are easily fact-checked. Here’s a typical example:

Gutmann: “The exact nature of this Media Foundation Protected Pipeline is somewhat mysterious, the executable image is mfpmp.exe but there's no file of that name present in Vista which implies it's being generated on the fly by another executable.” [emphasis added]

Oh really? I just clicked the Start button on this PC running Windows Vista Business, typed mfpmp, and instantly found this file in the Windows\System32 folder:

mfpmp_details.png

Oops. And I’m sorry to say that’s not the only forehead-slapping mistake in the original paper.

Where are the complaints from real live users? The original paper from last December included links to some early reviews, complaining about stuttering and dropped frames in audio and video playback. As it turns out, those problems had nothing to do with DRM and everything to do with immature drivers. The NetworkWorld report of your talk says “users are seeing status codes that say ‘graphics OPM resolution too high’” and quotes you as calling this “probably the most bizarre status code ever.” Well, I hang out regularly in a couple of forums with other digital media fanatics (The Green Button, AVS Forum, and microsoft.public.windows.mediacenter, to name just three) and I can’t find a single report of this error or anything remotely like it. In fact, most of the problems people are reporting have to do with connecting consumer electronics gear, which has nothing to do with Windows, Microsoft, or DRM.

Meanwhile, in the snippet I quoted at the beginning of this post, you say that many users are finding they can’t play back home movies shot in high-definition. I don’t have an HD video camera, but Brandon LeBlanc does. he shoots all his movies for the Windows Vista Experience blog in HD (1080i) using a Sony HDR-HC3 HDV Handycam, edits them in Windows Vista, and says he has never experienced a problem viewing them on his 42” HDTV.

I’ve scoured the newsgroups and forums to find complaints from real people of this issue and have come up empty.

How come I can do things you say are impossible? Your original paper says “In fact so far no-one has been able to identify any Windows system that will actually play HD content in HD quality.” Are you kidding? My sub-$500 Dell PC running Windows Vista outputs superb, glitch-free surround sound and glorious high-definition video at full 1080i and 720p resolutions on a Sony 50–inch HDTV display. A dozen PC makers sell systems at all price levels with full HD support. They weren’t on sale in December because Vista hadn’t been released to the consumer market yet. But they’re available now. Maybe you could update your paper with that news.

Here in the real world, my Vista Media Center PC is set to record the NBC Nightly News in HD every weekday evening. The NetworkWorld report of your talk says you’re worried that the extra power demands of HD playback are going to contribute to global warming. A few minutes ago, I played back last night’s broadcast and checked Vista’s Performance and Reliability Monitor. You’ll be relieved to know that it was using, on average, less than 15% of the low-end AMD CPU. the system is running so cool and quiet that I couldn’t hear its internal fan until I put my ear right next to it.

Will you please stop calling your critics names? In the update to your original paper, you compare Microsoft employees to Nazi war criminals (“we were only following orders”), with a specific link to the Wikipedia article on the Nuremberg defense, and to a criminal defendant with “six previous violent crime convictions on his record.” I’ve resisted the urge to call you names or to speculate on your motives for conducting this research. I hope you’ll give me the same respect.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written about Vista and had someone post a link to Peter Gutmann’s original paper in rthe Talkback section. The trouble is, all those theoretical predictions are turning out to be woefully inaccurate as time passes and the hardware ecosystem grows. The reality is that Vista handles HD content and high-quality audio very well indeed when you use current drivers and hardware. And if you don’t like DRM, don’t use it. Despite the alarming rhetoric, Vista’s DRM is an option. If you don’t use HD DVD or Blu-Ray drives or CableCARD devices, you’ll never have to deal with DRM. And if you do choose to use one of those technologies, I predict they’ll work just fine out here in the real world. End of story.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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262 comments
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  • I get so tired of FUD

    Just say NO to FUD!
    dragosani
    • Why do individuals insist that the entire world is using Vista .

      When it is not the case , overall Vista has a small footprint as opposed to the other Microsoft OS's . You should also write stories about the other versions of Microsoft Windows , after all it would seem with all this negative reports about Vista , no one is really buying into it . You know this as I do , so please don't continue to bring up Vista this and Vista that , because only a small minority of the world is using Vista .
      Intellihence
      • At last count over 60 million or 5.6% ....

        ... of computer users use Vista worldwide. It is the fastest growing operating system in the world and by the end of this quarter will have more users then Apple and Linux combined. That is the facts! You do not dis zdnet for talking about Apple or Linux so don't dis them about Vista.
        ShadeTree
        • As opposed to the 100 of millions of other OS's

          Interesting Vista in it's smaller numbers mean more than XP then huh . You know as well as I do that Vista is a half baked system , and that it was never ready for prime time . Microsoft just used you suckers as testers to do all their bug reporting . Is Microsoft paying you ?
          Intellihence
          • Leopard all this from someone who has not even used vista you must be

            Leopard all this from someone who has not even used vista you must be a physic.

            i could fins 1000s of sites that would say osx is half baked as you call it or Linux for that matter.

            there are just a few computer manufactures that will give you the option to install xp on a new computer now and they are getting rare.

            that means more and more people are using vista everyone but the blog geeks are whining about it and then it's just a small portion of them.

            for the most part people like vista and it's here to stay so zdnet needs to write.

            if you want to continue to believe the FUD and 99% of the crap you hear about it is FUD thats your problem. being that your a mac fanboy what do you care anyways.

            when Leopard comes out should ZDnet not talk about it ?

            i'm sure you would blow a gasket if that were the case.

            but like i said like it or not vista is here to stay. and contrary to the Linux and apple fans would like to believe vista did not kill Microsoft. and the ones that have made the choice to use it would like to read articles about it.

            there are apple writers at zdnet that write about mac stuff. should we go over there and whine that they should not talk about the iphone everyday because hardly anyone owns one ?
            SO.CAL Guy
          • You don't know anyone who owns an iPhone ?

            You must be poor or have poor friends or something . If anything I could care less if they put more or less stories about the iPhone . Just because Microsoft stated that 60 million copies of Vista was sold , doesn't mean it's actually in use . Mac OS X is not half baked , while the folks at Microsoft were devising Longhorn/Vista for the past couple of years OS X was becoming more and more mature . As of this day Mac OS X is grown fully , it's more than I can say about Vista . Last note , it's not the end of the summer yet and more and more complains are arising because of Vista . I'm betting that by the end of the summer more holes will be found in Vista . How many holes does XP/Vista have now that Microsoft has to shore up with it's Service Packs ? Do tell ?
            The_Nutty_Zealot
          • Really?

            "As of this day Mac OS X is grown fully"

            Please explain all the patches to OSX then.
            ShadeTree
          • you missed the point all together CodeWarrior_z but what can we expect from

            you missed the point all together CodeWarrior_z but what can we expect from a mac fanboy.
            SO.CAL Guy
          • I don't hang out with kiddies with rich parents

            Hence, the well off people I hang out with use mostly Blackberry's, I use an HTC myself. iPhone is an overpriced toy for kids who need the flash and brand more then functionality at a price that gives the device some real value as opposed to "status".

            Get real Apple Jack. iPhone are kiddies. Kiddies who have rick daddy's.
            Cayble
          • What about OS-X

            Hasn't Apple patched over 100 holes/fixes to OS-X since the first of the year?
            eye4bear
          • Actually your Bass Ackwards...

            there have been less complaints, school started more users will/have been using Vista. It's just a matter of time. And yes I know several people that looked that iPhones (with really deep pockets) and thought - nice, it's a tool what a waste.
            fr0thy2.
          • forgot one thing...

            Aligning your self with that child leopard...makes you look pretty damn idoitic and FUDmiser yourself.
            fr0thy2.
          • holes in Vista?`

            0. As in... 0. As in... none. No exploits for RTM Vista have come out. Problems for IE, problems for Windows Mail, yes. Vista? 0. Mac OS X? Several. MANY actually. Leopard had 4 pop up the first day it was released as beta. Vista had 3 if mind serves the entire time it was beta. 2 of which were part of the BASH like command prompt that Vista was going to have. It was cut because it wasn't secure enough, and is supposed to be added later. The other exploit was with the mouse. It was patched before release. Calling XP and Vista the same with your XP/Vista is like saying OS9/OSX. It's ridiculous. Vista is not even similar to XP. Completely different paradigm. It's Windows 95 all over again. Microsoft is starting another PC revolution, and in 10 years, you're gonna say it was Mac, and you're going to be wrong.
            evilkillerwhale@...
          • ROFLMAO - the child would blow a gasket...

            that's great!
            fr0thy2.
          • Gee.. Psychic just like Guttman..

            [b]Leopard all this from someone who has not even used vista you must be a physic.[/b]

            After all.. It would seem Gutmann hadn't ever seen Vista either when he wrote his FUD laden article and yet both of these FUDmeisters are so knowledgable about it. And if you believe that, I got a bridge for sale... Cheap.
            Wolfie2K3
          • They don't pay me any more then Apple pays ...

            ... you to debug their buggy OS. All OSs have bugs. Get over yourself. There aren't 100s of million OSs. What bothers you more? The fact that Vista will surpass all the users of Apple systems in a few short months after Apple has had years to build their base or the fact that Leapord has been delayed in favor of shipping a cell phone? Are you starting to realize that Apple doesn't care about you faithfull zealots as you do about them? I'll bet you are really having a problem with the fact that Apple's customer satisfaction numbers are down by 5%. It sucks to be you dude and find out your religion isn't all it is cracked up to be!
            ShadeTree
          • Damn...that hurt...

            ...
            fr0thy2.
          • You keep saying dumber and dumber things, Leopard.

            The way you stated your title means that there are "one hundred of millions of other OS's". Firstly, that is improper grammar. Secondly, it's incorrect. Thirdly, assuming you meant hundreds of millions of people using other OS's, then that would be true. But in 6 months Vista has taken more than 1 out of every 20 people. When was the last time Mac has been able to say that? Oh right... never. All 8 million computer users used mac in 1980, boo hoo (This is obviously exaggerated both on numbers and the fact that not all used mac).

            I have had Vista since the first week. It was much cheaper than XP was. Much cheaper. I got Vista, Office 07 pro, Norton Internet Security 2007 2 year (with 3 licenses), and Microsoft Groove for under 100 USD. Microsoft gave copies to people for free. You attended a seminar for 3 hours, and got hundreds of dollars worth of Software. 100 day trial of Vista there, but considering it was only 80 to activate it, big deal. When has mac done that? Oh right, never. Vista worked FLAWLESSLY out of the box for me. Some 3rd party software had issues. By now, all software I use has been fixed. You saying it's a half baked system is utterly ridiculous, and just proves you know nothing of which you speak.
            evilkillerwhale@...
          • And what was XP's marketshare 6 Months after releast N/T

            .
            notsofast
        • And how many of those

          are converted to Windows XP or Linux? ]:)

          Sorry but the number of people out there who get it and not using it is pretty high. Many are saying screw Vista and going back to Windows XP, a few are dumping Windows completely and moving to Mac and some are checking into Linux. So your 60mil is more like 40mil at best.

          People are not happy with it... that is evident by the sheer numbers of people complaining and removing Vista. ]:)
          Linux User 147560