Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Last word

My final comment on DRM (I'll drop it) (unless of course something really stupid is done with it or crypto advancements affect it)...

DRM protects you from nothing, other than your ethically challenged self. If you're an honest person, you'll never see it (unless it's implemented poorly). If you're a professional criminal, it'll add steps to your process but won't stop you.

Q: So, who is it aimed at? A: You, the guy who attempts to save 99 cents by listening to music that someone else puts online. 400 million 99 cent thefts gets attention. I find it odd that the same industry is willing to spend almost as much to run out "copying music is stealing" advertisements.

Q: So who does it effect? A: Everyone. (I did mention poor implementations, right?) Someone has decided that it's an all or nothing thing, demanding that the OS with 95% market share implement it. This means that 3rd party manufacturers will have to add DRM to their products or not have a market. This will drive up the price for everything computer related. Costs go up, production goes down, markets get squeezed and prices for lower level components go up, driving costs for all electronics up. It took a very long time for the market to get to the point where you can buy $300 systems. (It got there because of very little innovation other than chip speed for an extended period of time.) Computer systems are more or less static in design, having become ubiquitous enough that most consider it an appliance rather than a tool. This action of mandatory DRM will destablize that market. You'll see prices shoot up faster than gasoline.

Q: How I feel about it? A: I actually hope that it works. After a short period of time, the entity driving the bus won't be the one that demanded that MS implement DRM in the first place. Yeah, MS will be a LOT more richer, but at some point, they'll have control of the market. Remember, not only is MS putting DRM in computers, they're also involved in content, either selling it to you directly or behind the scenes (Walmart's music uses MS's copy protection).

Also, innovation seems to occur when markets are squeezed. Inventors are usually frustrated people, looking for new or better ways do do something. Five years ago, who'd have thought that podcasting has gone where it has.

The scary part of all this is that DRM is built into hardware. Like it or not, the evil types will eventually learn the ins and outs of the system. Like I've always opined: adding technology to any system, while often improving performance, adds complexity to that system (more ways for it to break down) and makes the system more rigid (less tolerant to failure). Increased complexity plus increased rigidity equals greater catastropic failures.

MS can barely keep up with patching vulnerabilities now. You think Blaster was bad. Wait until a worm gets into the DRM system. (Remember, it now has control over your monitor, speakers and harddrive.)

How about a patch involves a firmware or hardware replacement? The market will likely tolerate one but two, a few months apart, will cause riots in Congress. The point to keep in mind that (to date) no bugless program has ever been commercially marketed (i.e., all programs have bugs). Put that on top of a system built by the lowest bidder. End result, DRM will be (or already has been) broken. Only a few will know about it at first. Once the number of machines containing the new feature are out there, it will become a target. Then someone will demonstrate how obscenely easy it is to compromise or abuse. Then you get the worms. Want see a "flash" policital movement? It'll come into existance a few days after the MP3/MP4-eating DRM mega-worm does.

I may not like it but I look forward to it. This is the pendulum that has spent a long time on our end ($300 systems). Market forces (DRM and a return to higher priced systems) will cause it to swing away but it'll come back.

With apologies for the rambling...