Monday, 23 April 2007

Vista and the myth of content protection

So, I find this - A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection - (found via BoingBoing) more than a little worrying. I don't have Vista, nor do I at any point plan to get Vista, but had I been considering it? This would have changed my mind.

More than just a rant about the powers that be, this is a blow-by-blow analysis of the ways in which Window's new platform is attempting to cripple your system. Microsoft doesn't want you to be able to use your product, that you bought with your money. They don't want you to be able to have ownership of your own content. Microsoft want to be able to own and control every aspect of the system you use.

It's a lengthy article, but one that I think is well worth reading. Peter Gutmann undertakes a examination of all the ways in which the extensive 'content protection' in place in Windows Vista hinders the user and the product they have bought. As he states in the executive summary:

"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 effectsof 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)."

Or, as he puts it more succinctly - the Vista Content Protection Specification may well constitute the longest suicide note in history.

(The Microsoft response to this is here, by the way, but is so filled with spin and double-talk as to be nearly meaningless)

As Jim Allchin, recently Co-President, Platforms and Services Division of Microsoft, who retired the day Vista shipped, was quoted as saying, "LH [Longhorn — now known as Vista] is a pig and I don’t see any solution to this problem."

And what implication does this have for libraries? Well, quite a few things, really. If older versions of Windows are no longer supported, it may result in organisation being forced into costly upgrades, or be denied support. If manufacturers are forced to be Vista compliant, the price of both software and hardware will rise, in order to meet increased development costs. Crippling DRM may drastically slow down, if not halt, digitisation projects. We could be looking at library management systems that won't migrate, costly software rewrites, or, worse, having to start systems again from scratch.

What it does mean, is that libraries need to be looking elsewhere than in proprietary systems. We will need to look into moving away from Windows towards Linux or even (gasp!) Macs to run our libraries. Moving towards Open Source library management systems. Making the most of web applications that don't need to be tied to an OS. Investigating alternate resources, rather than settling for the same old thing, time and time again. Be the ones that champion new initiatives in your organisation. Explore the alternatives, do the research, and come back with a business case to sell. Because if we can't do the research into the available alternatives, who can?

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