A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

sunder sunder at sunder.net
Sun Dec 24 08:15:11 PST 2006

Peter Gutmann wrote:
> The worst thing about all of this is that there's no escape.  Hardware
> manufacturers will have to drink the kool-aid (and the reference to mass
> suicide here is deliberate [Note C]) in order to work with Vista: "There is no
> requirement to sign the [content-protection] license; but without a
> certificate, no premium content will be passed to the driver".  Of course as a
> device manufacturer you can choose to opt out, if you don't mind your device
> only ever being able to display low-quality, fuzzy, blurry video and audio
> when premium content is present, while your competitors don't have this
> (artificially-created) problem.
> As a user, there is simply no escape.  Whether you use Windows Vista, Windows
> XP, Windows 95, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, Solaris (on x86), or almost any other
> OS, Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less
> reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more
> vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems.
Actually there is an escape.  Manufacturers can opt out and explicitly
support things like Linux.   They can build machines specifically
designed to run open source operating systems with open source drivers. 
This will catch a large portion of the newly disgruntled ex-Microsoft
crowd.  If you are a graphics card manufacturer, your display will look
sharp when not running Vista, and will be much cheaper, and outperform
those running with Vista specifically because it won't require the extra
baggage, and will be much cheaper. 

Being cheaper will attract the thrifty consumer, and allow higher profit
margins for the manufacturers.  Right now there are companies that build
Linux computers out of various notebooks from IBM, Sony, and Acer. 
These can be even cheaper if they're not first bought off the shelf and
reinstalled, but rather built for Linux from the start.

Remember how Lenovo originally said they'd only support Windows?  They
backtracked pretty quickly and supported Linux on the T60P.  Gee, I
wonder what made them do that?  But I do note that they only support one
distro of Linux, which probably means that their drivers are locked down
and closed source which is bad.

What's to stop a device manufacturer from building two sets of devices?
One set unencumbered, one set for Microsoft?  Oh, right, secret
agreements.  I'm sure that those will evaporate.  Last years card won't
meet the Vista criteria any longer, or will be cracked, so perhaps the
manufacturer will at that point open up the drivers or the specs, or
someone will reverse engineer the driver.

If you were a graphics card maker, how would you prevent your card from
going obsolete or being cracked?  Firmware upgrades you say?  Wonderful!
You've just aided reverse engineers!  They'll figure out how your
firmware process works, and once that's done, how to build their own
firmware to reflash your cards with, one that isn't encumbered.  Sure
you want to play that game?

There is already a push from the open source community to require
manufacturers to open source their drivers.  Its mainly from the OpenBSD
group, and it's certainly not a large enough push, but it will gain
momentum over time.  There were grumblings from the Linux kernel side,
but Linus was opposed.  So there are plenty who wish this to come to
pass and will lobby for it.

There already exists a project to create an open source graphics card. 
One where the specs and the drivers are open:

At first such things will be hobbyist projects driven by FPGA's and be
more expensive.  As momentum grows, this will change.  Besides, FPGA's
offer something far more interesting: the ability to upgrade your
hardware with just a file upload.  Throw in some off the shelf DSP's and
CPU's, fast memory (perhaps with DIMM slots for upgradeability) and
you've go the makings of a killer graphics card that could compete with
the big dogs.  In fact, why not throw in some great audio hardware too?

Just think of it, about to play back a DVD? Don't waste CPU cycles on
it, upload your mpeg1 decoder to the video card and let it's CPU do the
work.  Want to output in 3D, upload code directly to the video card and
let it's CPU do the red-blue mixing.

Want to play games, the game can upload its own code to the card so it
can be optimized for that specific game.

Want to play MP3's, OGG's?  upload the codec to the video card, and just
stream the file to the card.

Want to render a web page?  Push the HTML and its graphics directly to
the card!  And so on!

I for one, would rather pay $1500 for such a card than $500 for the
latest and greatest from nVidia or ATI.

Over time such projects will grow, and they will be fueled by
Microsoft's idiotic plans.

There is already a very nicely designed Linux computer on the market
designed to be a PVR, DVD player and fit in your living room that you
can buy for about $800 that is a better Tivo than Tivo, and doesn't
kowtow to the MPAA.  There's no reason you can't build your own of those
if you wanted to for about half the price, but it's good that there's a
consumer version of it.

It's a perfect analog for the anti-vista machine of the future.
> Here's an offer to Microsoft: If we, the consumers, promise to never, ever,
> ever buy a single HD-DVD or Blu-Ray disc containing any precious premium
> content [Note D], will you in exchange withhold this poison from the computer
> industry?  Please?
I have a better offer to Microsoft: go fuck yourselves. 

Personally I haven't bought a Microsoft operating system since Windows
2000, and have no plans on upgrading to anything other than Linux,
FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, or OS X.  The XP activation dance convinced me to
not do so.  Nor will I buy any computer with Windows installed on it,
nor will I support Microsoft servers at work, despite having over 11
years of experience with it (the more you know about Windows, the more
you realize how crappy it is!)

I'm sure that whatever artificial needs for windows software I might
have will be addressed by the fact that my employer will have a windows
machine available for me to convert Office documents to whatever format
I'll need, even if they're just postscript or PDF.  In the end, even
these will evaporate, especially if Microsoft starts locking down their
data formats too.  Sure, sure, a lot of corporations will still insist
on Office and such, but slowly they will switch, and those that will
require it will have machines to allow access to them, thus allow
conversion from them.

Likely they'll realize that this will be a poison pill to them, and
loosen the restrictions, but I hope they go full steam ahead with this
plan instead.

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