469 - Microsoft reply to vista_cost

The vista_cost paper I linked to a couple of weeks ago has obviously caused some consternation at Microsoft HQ, as they’ve taken the time to write a response on the Windows Vista Team Blog.

What is most interesting about the reply is that it makes no attempt to discredit any of the assertions in the original paper &— which is indicative that most, if not all, of the statements about possible problems with Vista’s DRM restrictions are accurate. Especially, and tellingly, there is no denial that adding these restrictions will have a cost that will fall on device manufacturers and, therefore, be passed onto consumers. That is, you have to pay both financially and in the function of you computer.

Many of the points made in the reply are variations on the line, “well, there have been restrictions for years in Windows, so what’s the problem?”. Privacy invading powers such as driver revocation are defended by saying that it is very unlikely that they will be used.

I find this doubly insulting: not only are these draconian powers there in the first place, the best defense of them is that they probably won’t be used. Damn useful, then, all that time it assuredly took to implement them! It’s lucky Vista isn’t years late, sadly bereft of many of its most exciting features, otherwise one might think this was a little mis-directed application of resources.

One quote particularly attracted my attention. It seems that, thoughtfully, Vista will restrict the output of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs too:

As a practical matter, image constraint will typically result in content being played at no worse than standard definition television resolution. In the case of HD optical media formats such as HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, the constraint requirement is 520K pixels per frame (i.e., roughly 960×540), which is still higher than the native resolution of content distributed in the DVD-Video format.

To sum up: you buy high definition movie content, and we promise not to play it back at worse than standard definition. This constraint comes into effect if Vista cannot prove you are not trying to rip the video, not at all times of course. As many current HD TVs don’t support some of the protocols necessary to convince Vista they are kosher, that two thousand pound big screen TV may well not be so great a purchase. I find it a remarkable feat of guilty until proven innocent, however, concealed in a sentence that tries to imply how generous the restrictions are!

So, we have the most onerous features defended by saying they probably will not be used and the degradation of output defended as, essentially, “it’s not all that bad”. I can see why a lot of people are loath to upgrade to Vista. If I used Windows, I’d be hoarding a few XP licenses, just to be on the safe side.

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