Will anyone share Sun's Dream?

Sun's Dream is something of a latecomer to the digital rights management party. Now it needs someone to share it with

Enlightened content producers understand that digital rights management (DRM) is a poor way of preventing people from doing things they want; listening to downloaded music on a CD, for instance. Switched-on media companies understand that the people who feel the sharp-end of DRM are very often customers, or at least potential customers.

Few industry-led discussions of digital rights management ever mention what the customer wants. Whatever happened to the notion that the customer is always right?

Sun's Dream DRM, announced this week, does at least appear to take a step in the right direction; it lets customers download (and even pay for) content once, but then be free to listen to or view it on any device they chose.

The company's move into DRM should be welcomed in the vein of its successful, cross-industry Liberty Alliance for federated identity management, which very effectively used openness and trust to see off Microsoft's ill-conceived, single-company Passport.

Yet Sun's idea of openness often leaves something to be desired. When it took SuSE's Linux distribution and repackaged it, with a few modifications, as the Sun Java Desktop, it removed almost all trace of the 'L' word and could certainly have made it much, much clearer that the operating system was first and foremost governed by the GPL, which gave buyers the right to pass it on.

Our welcome to Dream DRM should be tempered by memories of the Java Desktop. To really stand a chance, the Dream software needs to be truly open source; it also needs to be trusted, which infers a cross-industry body, such as OASIS, in charge of specifications.

Sun's own licence keeps it in charge of the roadmap, which is just where Sun likes to be but whether enough other companies will accept this status quo remains to be seen. After all, anyone can arrange a party; getting people to come is the tricky bit.