Vista’s Little DRM’r boy

Andrew Brown says the dark side of Microsof’s new Vista operating system is a nasty digital rights management system. Oh the relentless greed of the movie industry. In cahoots with Microsoft they are seeking to guarantee their billions in profits and to ensure Tom Cruise can continue to make $20 million a movie.

Making the upgrade

I have no need to replace anything on my computer until it physically breaks, so why on earth would I want to switch to Microsoft Vista?

By Andrew Brown

I see from the BBC’s website that consumers “are being forced to wait until late January” for their copies of Windows Vista and my blood boils at such sloppy journalism. No one is forcing me to wait for Vista. I will, of my own free choice, wait happily for the rest of my life before I install a new Windows operating system, and I actually know how to install one. Most consumers haven’t got a clue. They are no more being “forced to wait” for Vista than they are being forced to wait for the chance of performing open-heart surgery on their grannies.What we are, or will be, forced to do, isn’t waiting. It is upgrading. You know what upgrading is like. In our family, when one of the children’s pets is ill, we no longer speak of putting it to sleep, but of “upgrading” it, as in “sick guppy has been upgraded to dead guppy”. This is bad enough when tropical fish are involved, but it’s heartbreaking when it happens to computers.

There has been no real reason to upgrade a Windows operating system since Windows 2000 came out, nearly seven years ago. Windows XP is just windows 2000 with lipstick. Vista is not just XP tarted up. It comes with a rapacious heart. The real core changes in the operating system seem to be there to make life more difficult for consumers, to the benefit of producers. In particular, they are there to try to ensure that the film industry doesn’t suffer from the same piracy problems as the music industry has done.

So Microsoft will be able to stop your computer working well, or at all, if it seems to be being used for piracy. If my computer uses a part that someone else has cracked to watch content-protected material with, Microsoft will be able to break it too, so that I can’t take advantage of the crack. Only the computer industry could sell as an “upgrade” a program which allows the seller at any moment, and at their own discretion, to cripple the computer that it runs on.

Now, I don’t want to use my computer to play high-resolution DVDs. If I want to watch those, I have a perfectly good television set and a player attached to it. All I want from my computer is that it should work reliably and allow me to connect to the internet, play music, fiddle with photographs and write things. It has been doing all those things very well since 2000. There is no need ever to upgrade it until something physically breaks.

None the less, the industry has its ways to force me. At Christmas, we had a new MP3 player. This could not be charged with any music at all unless it was connected to a computer running XP. The only reason for this is that XP makes it easier to restrict the copying of DRM-protected files. Since I have no interest in buying such music, this feature is of no possible use to me. It merely means that a perfectly good piece of hardware which just cost £130 won’t load music from my computer unless I pay £140 for an upgrade to my operating system as well. It is in any case technically illegal to rip music from CDs to load on to an MP3 player, but with all these upgrades the technology has caught up with the law so it will become physically impossible to do the things that copyright holders wish to prevent.

In a year’s time it will be more or less impossible to buy a computer that does not have Vista on it and the financial cost of the new operating system will be the least of its burdens for the consumer. But it won’t really profit the producers of all this rubbish either. Region-coded DVDs were the first widespread attempt to make it physically impossible to play content that one was not legally entitled to play. They don’t work very well. Almost all the really cheap DVD players you can buy are multi-regional, and will play DVDs from anywhere. Why should the Chinese manufacturers care about Sony’s profits?

As soon as Microsoft’s Vista seems to have the marked-for-high-definition DVDs locked up, some Chinese factory is bound to start to turn out boxes much smaller and much cheaper than any general purpose computer could be, which will play any disk we put into them. Now that is an upgrade that consumers really are waiting for, even if they don’t all know it yet.

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