One commenter on digg.com asked what the sense of my article is. Is it just that Microsoft Vista will introduce new levels of encryption to the playback of HD content? I wish it were as simple as that. And this goes way beyond the idea that consumers will have to pay for the extra components on the video cards which will not be used if they don’t play HD content. It goes way beyond the fact that pirated HD content is already available which invalidates all their efforts to date. The real issue that warrants your attention is that Microsoft has teamed up with the entertainment industries (RIAA + MPAA) to create an operating system that can control what you do, where you do it, and how you do it. The real issue is that they are collectively pushing degenerative technology which is causing a cultural backslide.
The new features which create “pipelines” to secure audio and video ensure that consumers can not play movies or music on devices that are not approved. More then ever, the industries who produce the entertainment consumed by the masses treat those very same people as potential criminals. Microsoft isn’t kowtowing to demands; they are gladly aiding the entertainment industry to fight a battle they themselves are waging. Piracy affects anyone who distributes products under a restrictive copyright regime. Unlike what many a blog commenter has tried to argue DRM is not free. There are significant costs involved which I have tried to outline in my previous articles in the form of additional hardware, resource usage, engineering time, technical support, and PR spin to counter people like me who are against such things. One commenter on the windowsvistablog was nice enough to extract all six mentions of who is paying for these restrictions. The consumer.
Yet if one were to conduct a survey among users I would find it difficult to believe that anyone would list DRM high on their wish list. It’s difficult to imagine someone asking for “computers which run software you can’t see, can’t understand, can’t control, and which reports to other people what is going on in your network without your ability to interrupt or do anything?”. Even if the payoff is the ability to play back HD content from major studios. This is the leverage that Microsoft has touted from the beginning and their hope is that consumers value this “ability” so highly as to turn a blind eye to the degenerative methodologies embedded in the very core of their new operating system.
Part of the adherence to the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) specifications is the deliberate obfuscation of drivers and the withdrawal of open hardware specifications. When an approved device is given a piece of HD content the operating system begins negotiating with the device to verify that it is real and authentic. To accomplish this, undocumented calls are made to the device verifying that it is not a fake device intent on viewing unencrypted frames of the premium content. How does this affect you? Dave Marsh responded that “HFS uses additional chip characteristics other than those needed to write a driver. HFS requirements should not prevent the disclosure of all the information needed to write drivers.” What he doesn’t mention is that the authors of the drivers for future video hardware are under contract to obfuscate their code and keep their specifications closed. Closed specifications affect hardware design for ALL operating systems. Free software driver developers will find less and less publicly available documentation. One of the commenters on my original post had a great response which I’m including here.
“I don’t care about ‘premium content’, neither copied nor purchased, and yet I, as a software developer, have to live with the fact that it’s hard to use 3D graphics cards using free drivers. Thanks to the deal between the likes of MPAA-Microsoft-ATI, the situation won’t improve, it will only get worse. “