Monday, December 25, 2006

When greed turns against you

Of course, we live in a society that rewards making money through innovation. But what happens when, in the case of Microsoft, you are unable to produce true innovation?

Without going through the technical reasons, such as "Vista builds in 24 hours" and "the tests run in 3 months", the issue here is that when you cannot come up with a new idea, then sometimes you end up doing things that in the long run just damage you.

For instance, this lovely description of the content protection mechanisms in Vista. You should read it thoroughly, paying close attention to details. To summarize,

  • All PC hardware will be more expensive, and their drivers more bug prone, due to Vista. In particular, if a flaw is found in a hardware design that could allow you to access premium content when you shouldn't, then Microsoft can revoke your rights to use such hardware remotely. This means that if you make a big investment in, say, a video card, it can become worthless overnight due to a glitch. And OBTW, do you remember those disclaimers now? The price hike has been estimated at about 20% --- and this will apply to you whether you use Vista or not. Mac user using standard PC hardware? I am sorry for you too!
  • Part of the price hike you will pay in hardware is to support end to end encryption of premium content. This means your motherboard, your video card, your audio card... pretty much everything, will have to support AES. This means increased power consumption and decreased hardware functionality (as you pay more to get the same, plus AES capable hardware). In some cases, this means increased CPU usage due to e.g. playing a CD in the background. When the CPU can't cope with video decoding plus encryption, then encryption will have to be handed off to the video card --- which means further obfuscation of the bus channel between the CPU and the video card. The list of places where your dollars will have to do extra work goes on and on. And mind you, some hardware devices have been made incompatible with each other to support this.
  • This offers a perfect opportunity to make a mess of Windows based servers. A worm just needs to make sure the copy protection is tripped, and then performance goes down the drain. The secrecy that blocks details about how the copy protection is enabled prevents you from figuring out what the heck is wrong with the box. I am sorry for you, but Vista always knows better.
  • In addition, hardware must support tilt bits (just like in pinball machines, which detect excessive rocking). Drivers will have to wake up 30 times per second to confirm everything is fine --- that's more useless CPU usage for your high performance box to take care of. And what if there's a hardware glitch that trips a tilt bit every so often, such as "voltage such and such is off by more than the threshold"? Then your box will perform horribly and Vista will get angry with you.
  • There is much more in there, to the point that content providers are dictating the layout of motherboards.
  • Also, I am sure businesses will like a 20% productivity tax on new hardware which will underperform and thus be a bad investment, when employees aren't supposed to be watching movies at work anyway.
All of this mess so I couldn't just purchase a stupid HD player for $50? You have to be so much smoking illegal stuff to come up with such garbage.

Thus, the responsibility comes to us. Because it will be our fault, and our fault alone, if we let this approach succeed by spending even $1 on those abominable shiny new products full of glass beads. So which one will it be? Are we too addicted to the latest stuff that we can't stop shooting ourselves in the foot?

We shall see, my friend.


Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that everybody will be for this new crap.

- this is good opportunity of hardware maker to sale more stuff to replace non-AES compliant devices
- this is good opportunity for Microsoft to sell more bugged software to comply with the hardware
- this is obviously good for content provider, with all the crap backed up by American laws.

Hence, I am afraid that the customers will have actually no choice here. :(

Philip Dorrell said...

I have written an article related to this: Looking for a Win/Win Solution to the War Between "Premium Content" and Digital Freedom.

Vista content protection is like a final escalation in the war between copyright and digital freedoms. Sony's rootkit was the last big "battle", and they backed down. Now all that is left is Microsoft, who can "rootkit" their own operating system without even calling it a rootkit.

My own proposal is to disconnect payment from "protection": make a trade where our digital freedoms are returned to us, in exchange for a small tax equivalent to however much it takes to fund the development of "premium content". And to avoid all objections about who should decide how to allocate payments from the tax, let the taxpayers decide on allocation by voting on it, i.e. voting for or against which published digital content ("premium" or otherwise) should have income allocated to it.

This proposal solves the problem of "digital piracy" by redefining the concept into meaninglessness.

At the moment we are fighting a war to the death, where "we" want our freedom and "they" want their money. In other words "we" and "they" are fighting over different things, and on top of that, it isn't even all that much money.

Andres said...


I like your point of view, in particular the observation that it is not a lot of money to begin with.

BTW, Vista required the expenditure of about $10 billion dollars in 6 years just in salaries... sigh... what's the ROI time on that, in particular when you have to continue to spend about $1.6 billion dollars in salaries every year after the release goes out?

Red ink 101, anyone?


Andres said...


The choice is ours: we can always skip buying what we do not like. But... then again, are we so much into having the latest gizmo that we can't control ourselves?