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Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
  Blog \Blôg\, n. [Jrg, fr. Jrg. "Web-log".
     See {Blogger, BlogSpot, LiveJournal}.]
     A stream-of-consciousness Web journal, containing
     links, commentary, and pointless drivel.


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Tuesday, July 2, 2002
13:50 - Palladium Laid Bare
http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2873149,00.html

(top) link
Newsweek's Steven Levy (most notably) broke the story of Microsoft's "Palladium" initiative-- the one where they propose to incorporate hardware-level public-key crypto authentication and digital-rights-management into every computer. However, if I'm reading this article by David Coursey aright, Levy's scoop was something that Microsoft had hoped not to have to talk about for a good long time yet.

But then some smart reporters--including Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft (a frequent radio guest of mine) and Newsweek's  Steven Levy--discovered that Microsoft had filed for a patent on an operating system with built-in digital rights management features.

Microsoft tried to keep a lid on the story for as long as possible. But after finding out that Levy was going to print something, the company invited him to Redmond for two days to hear the whole story. Even then, Microsoft didn't expect the story to run so soon. When it discovered that Levy's story was about to hit the streets, Microsoft barely had time to warn those of us who were maintaining our silence that the secret was almost out of the bag.

I'm telling you all this because Microsoft would have been better off staying silent on this one. The reports that are surfacing are going to raise many more questions than Microsoft has answers for.

I'm really starting to like Coursey. He's exactly what I like to see in the tech press: a reporter who's not afraid to go out, do some digging, try new things, and change his stance and opinions if what he finds disagrees with his preconceptions. No, he wasn't one of those who were taken up to Redmond for the emergency Palladium indoctrination-- but he's revealing something a good deal more important than what Microsoft has cobbled together by way of boilerplate; namely, the circumstances surrounding this scoop in the first place.

Levy, after all, didn't mention that Palladium wasn't supposed to have been announced this early or under these circumstances.

(Coursey'd always been a Windows guy, and fairly pro-Microsoft. He barely gave Apple a nod. But earlier this year, he undertook the now-famous "Month on a Mac", which extended to three months and perhaps longer because he didn't want to have to send his iMac back. He's now as likely as any Mac rumor site to write a column on Apple happenings, and he's as critical of Windows XP and Microsoft (and Palladium) as one could hope. And to dispel any accusations of favoritism, he spent a "Month on Linux", which recently ended; he concluded that Linux had a lot of things to recommend it, but not as a consumer desktop OS. No, he's a Mac guy now, at least in large part-- and presuming that Apple isn't paying him off, he's a prime example of someone who's willing to open his mind and have it changed through first-hand experience.)

Coursey's now interviewed the same people Levy has, and he's come to the same kinds of conclusions-- though, perhaps because he didn't go through the indoctrination procedure (evidently he was too busy being inculcated in the Tablet PC propaganda intended to convince him that the fact that Microsoft's handwriting recognition sucks Tiger Eyes is immaterial because "handwriting recognition doesn't matter"), his challenge to Microsoft is couched in more severe terms. Coursey isn't impressed. He wants answers to the questions that we're all asking: namely, what the hell business does Microsoft, the creator of 90% of all security holes in software today, have in undertaking to become the sole guardian of all of our digital identities and rights and capabilities and data? Who in their right mind trusts Microsoft to write security software?

The TalkBack people seem to agree with him, though I'm not reading anything but the titles on the posts. Nobody seems to have any faith in Microsoft's ability to pull this off-- the consensus is that this will be a disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nobody wants to see it happen. We know that computing will be fundamentally different in terms of security and privacy ten years from now-- but we know that Microsoft isn't the company we want to see do it.

And now that the cat's out of the bag early, there's time for the outrage to spread, and maybe do some good.

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© Brian Tiemann