Of ground axes and long suicide notes


There’s been an “analysis” floating around the ‘net in the last few days from Auckland University’s Peter Gutmann about how Windows Vista DRM will destroy computing as we know it.  The article’s penultimate soundbite comes in its Executive Executive Summary:

The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history

Sensationalize much, Peter?

Though the article has spots and grains of truth as its base (many of the citations are from microsoft.com), the message is lost in the ranting FUD.  Gutmann extracts worst-cases from the information he has, and completely fabricates other information in order to paint the most severe doomsday scenario he can think of.  I’ve read this type of argument before, and it belongs more to the front page of slashdot or an internet forum than to be treated as any kind of formal analysis.

I will leave it to the MS folks who specialize in PR to give a line-by-line rebuttal, but Gutmann’s main point has been seen before on postings about DRM.  All content will stop playing, forcing users to buy new hardware and software, resulting in security breaches, reliability and performance nightmares, the destruction of the OSS community, vendor lock-in, mass hysteria, and dogs and cats living together.  The biggest caveat Gutmann doesn’t mention is that none of this doomsday scenario will ever come to pass on any given machine unless that machine is used to play so-called “premium” content.  And not just any premium content, but content where the producer has specifically requested these restrictions by enabling certain control bits.  The (expected) public backlash to such restrictions, as alluded to in Gutmann’s document, is reason enough that said content will never surface in any significant way.  A content producer that angers a significant portion of their customers can’t expect to sell very much more content, and they know this.  They may be misguided, greedy, and completely without a moral compass, but they’re not stupid.

Gutmann also complains at length about HDCP revocation, condemning Microsoft for the evils of the technology, but he manages to completely miss one key point.  It’s not Microsoft’s technology.  Revocation is part of Intel’s HDCP spec, and all Microsoft did was follow the spec so as not to get sued by half the industry for breaking it.  What a lot of folks probably don’t realize is that the PC is not where most people watch movies.  Whether or not you can play Blu-Ray movies on a PC is really not going to make or break Hollywood.  Most ‘content’ in the world is still being displayed on consumer electronics, and non-Microsoft CE companies are happily implementing HDCP without being flamed up and down the internet.  The PC software industry doesn’t have a lot of leverage here, and Microsoft’s choice is to either implement the restrictions along with the rest, or get locked out of the party.

I’d bet that if Microsoft had taken the high ground here and refused to implement DRM, we’d instead see an army of bloggers decrying us for lack of HD media support.  We can’t win.


Comments (9)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Uhh, actually that’s Peter Gutmann, but that’s, you know, on line two of the document, so I’m guessing you didn’t actually read down that far before firing off a post.

    Sigh.

    [Mea Culpa.  Looks like it’s time to fire my editor.  The name has been fixed above.  This does nothing to invalidate my point, however.  –Ryan]
  2. Anonymous says:

    <i>They may be misguided, greedy, and completely without a moral compass, but they’re not stupid.</i>

    I would have to disagree on that last bit.  See Starforce.

    Vorn

  3. Garry Trinder says:

    Ryan, you are wrong:

    unless that machine is used to play so-called "premium" content.

    It’s only matter of single page of paper with signature of recording studio CEO to stop selling "unprotected" DVDs and replace all stores inventory with "premium" content. For example newest Britney Spears clip can be deemed as "premium".

    This will effectively force all users to buy new hardware from vendors who has paid HDCP licenses fees and costs, software from HDCP OS vendor (Microsoft ?) and new output devices (monitors and plasmas).

    Even more – this is closed club of vendors – any stranger can be put out of business by revoking his digital key.

    This can be possible to be done not even by hackers – but competitors who will use tunneling microscope (just of one those that they use to test their own IC printing quality) to extract competitor key from device and post it on internet.

  4. Anonymous says:

    unless that machine is used to play so-called "premium" content.

    But wasn’t the entire purpose of implementing Digital Restrictions Management within Vista, so that MS could ‘OWN’ the Home Theatre market?  

    By your own admission, Vista will be effectively unable to play premium content in some situations (I would say most), doesn’t that inability to play all premium content always, automatically preclude MS from ever being the major player in the Home Theatre (aka Media Centre) market?

  5. Anonymous says:

    "The (expected) public backlash to such restrictions, as alluded to in Gutmann’s document, is reason enough that said content will never surface in any significant way. "

    Really? Find me a DVD where you can fast-forward past the FBI warning, or the advertising.

    "A content producer that angers a significant portion of their customers can’t expect to sell very much more content, and they know this. "

    Like Sony? They’re out of the CD business?

  6. Anonymous says:

    There hasn’t been a CD/DVD worth my bandwith in years.

  7. Anonymous says:

    KenM, no, it won’t preclude Microsoft from being a major player because every other HD media device will be laboring under exactly the same restrictions (and if they don’t they’ll be sued into oblivion).  As Ryan said, this isn’t Microsoft’s standard and it’s not optional.  If ANY player wants to support HD content they must respect the control bits that premium content owners may choose to set.  It’s either that or no HD content at all, period.

  8. Anonymous says:

    "The biggest caveat Gutmann doesn’t mention is that none of this doomsday scenario will ever come to pass on any given machine unless that machine is used to play so-called "premium" content"

    From Gutmann’s article:

    "So the instant any audio derived from premium content

    appears on your system, signal degradation and disabling of outputs will

    occur"

    "Vista requires that

    any interface that provides high-quality output degrade the signal quality

    that passes through it if premium content is present"

    "Now obviously CDs aren’t (yet) regarded as premium content and so won’t

    trigger Vista’s content-protection measures…"

    Oh, and putting this:

    "A content producer that angers a significant portion of their customers can’t expect to sell very much more content, and they know this"

    together with this:

    "Whether or not you can play Blu-Ray movies on a PC is really not going to make or break Hollywood"

    leaves me less than optimistic about restricted premium content "never surfac[ing] in any significant way"

  9. rdamiani says:

    "ontent where the producer has specifically requested these restrictions by enabling certain control bits"

    Why do they get to decide whither or not my stuff works correctly on my stuff?