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Mac, Linux No Refuge from Vista DRM
Cost analysis by academic researcher claims Microsoft's new rights-management will hurt the entire computer industry
Locked CDs.Think you're immune from Microsoft's new rights-management restrictions because you're a Mac or Linux user? Think again, according to New Zealand's Peter Gutmann.

Gutmann recently published an analysis of the cost of Vista's "content protection" measures--hardwired locks against copying high-definition movies and the like. While these measures may deter some piracy, Gutmann argues they will also obstruct those who want to film their own movies or write open-source software--even if you don't run Windows.

"A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection" by Peter Gutmann

A few excerpts:

Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called "premium content", typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources.  Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost.  These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it's not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server).  This document analyses the cost involved in Vista's content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry.

Costs cited in the article include:

Direct Disabling of Functionality
Indirect Disabling of Functionality
Elimination of Open-source Hardware Support Decreased Playback Quality
Elimination of Unified Drivers
Denial-of-Service via Driver Revocation
Decreased System Reliability
Increased Hardware Costs
Increased Cost due to Requirement to License Unnecessary Third-party IP Unnecessary CPU Resource Consumption
Unnecessary Device Resource Consumption

Microsoft StudentThe scariest conclusion is that Vista's new hardware-based restrictions will make life harder for Linux, Mac, and other users:

The worst thing about all of this is that there's no escape.  Hardware manufacturers will have to drink the kool-aid (and the reference to mass suicide here is deliberate [Note K]) in order to work with Vista: "There is no requirement to sign the [content-protection] license; but without a certificate, no premium content will be passed to the driver".  Of course as a device manufacturer you can choose to opt out, if you don't mind your device only ever being able to display low-quality, fuzzy, blurry video and audio when premium content is present, while your competitors don't have this (artificially-created) problem.

 As a user, there is [also] no escape.  Whether you use Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 95, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, Solaris (on x86), or almost any other OS, Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems.  Because Windows dominates the market and device vendors are unlikely to design and manufacture two different versions of their products, non-Windows users will be paying for Windows Vista content-protection measures in products even if they never run Windows on them.

Two Slashdot readers alluded to this analysis in their responses to a story about the recent Microsoft marketing ploy of sending free Vista-loaded laptops to prominent bloggers:

A free laptop that downscales and then reupscales all "unprotected" high quality signals that pass through it? Just to cover the mere possibility that you didn't pay for something? A laptop designed to detect the slightest analog voltage fluctuations, and inject crap bits into the system to make it crash, just in case you attach an alligator clip to your sound card to get free music? Or with remotely destructible device drivers that are disabled by Microsoft once the RIAA learns about a driver vulnerability that allows leakage of "protected content"? No thanks. [auckland.ac.nz]

Someone should get the list of developers who got free laptops, so we can send them Knoppix CDs as "no strings attached gifts". These laptops already need rescuing.



Part of MS's onerous content protection guidelines is to make the hardware as difficult to reverse engineer as possible. From inaccessible circuit paths and obfuscated drivers to encrypting the bus and "suspicious voltage" trip wires. Widespread adoption of DRM-crippled hardware will make open source and alternate platform drivers outrageously difficult. In addition, all the extra hardware and effort to lockdown equipment from its OWNER will make it cost more too.

You cannot avoid DRM by simply avoiding Windows. Freedom loving geeks will have to do a bit of research to pick DRM-free parts. Maybe someday manufacturers will opt for a "DRM free" sticker on the box instead of "Designed for Windows Vista."


Updated: 2007-01-09 by Jon Ippolito

Updated: 2007-01-09 by Jon Ippolito
Posted 2007-01-09 13:16:41 by Jon Ippolito
Comments on this story... (toggle all)

Update: Vista won't play many DVDs [Jon Ippolito, 2007-01-10 09:15:56]

"High-quality DVDs will not operate on some Vista PCs"
“To downgrade the signal so that the HD-DVD will play, you need a [High-Definition Content Protection] constrictor, but that doesn’t seem to be present in many of the computers that are shipping. Given that it downgrades signal quality, most manufacturers aren’t rushing to include it. Any computer which has an LCD monitor is potentially at risk of not being able to play this content.” [Vista's DRM shuts down any high-def video served over a digital connection without High-Definition Content Protection.]

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