The nightmare after Christmas

I know one is not supposed to start the year on a gloomy note, but Quentin has a really sombre post about the implications of the DRM measures built into Vista.

Peter Gutman’s A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection should be required reading for anybody in the technology business. It’s an analysis of the way Microsoft’s devotion to ‘content protection’ is crippling the PC of the future.

It should also give pause to those thinking of building a media-centre around Microsoft technologies in the New Year, or of upgrading their PC to one based on Vista.

The good news is that you may be able to play Hollywood movies in high-definition on your Vista machine (as opposed to, say, on a dedicated DVD player). The bad news is that almost everything else about the PC platform will be made worse as a result…

Quentin quotes Peter Gutman’s illustration of what this could mean in practice:

Consider a medical IT worker who’s using a medical imaging PC while listening to audio/video played back by the computer (the CDROM drives installed in workplace PCs inevitably spend most of their working lives playing music or MP3 CDs to drown out workplace noise). If there’s any premium content present in there, the image will be subtly altered by Vista’s content protection, potentially creating exactly the life-threatening situation that the medical industry has worked so hard to avoid. The scary thing is that there’s no easy way around this – Vista will silently modify displayed content…

The strange thing is that most of this DRM lunacy seems to have been created at the behest of the recording and movie industries. Microsoft is bigger than all of those companies combined. It could have said — as someone (it’s not clear who from Quentin’s post) commented:

While it’s convenient to paint an industry that sues 12-year-old kids and 80-year-old grandmothers as the scapegoat, no-one’s holding a gun to Microsoft’s head to force them do this. The content industry is desperate to get its content onto PCs, and it would have quite easy for Microsoft to say “Here’s what we’ll do with Vista, take it or leave it. We won’t seriously cripple our own and our business partners’ products just to suit your fancy”. In other words they could make it clear to Hollywood who’s the tail and who’s the dog.

Before Vista, I thought that anyone who willingly used a Microsoft operating system was merely foolish; from now on, I think they will have to be regarded as certifiable.