Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
Chances are that the PC you're using right now cost between $1,500 and $3,000
of your (or your boss's) hard-earned cash.
You might think that you (or your boss) owns this PC -- and in the traditional
sense of the word, that's true.
These days however, the word "own" has a new meaning when applied to computers:
own - verb - to have control of
If you think that you own that PC in front of you then you are probably
very wrong -- or soon will be.
No, I'm not talking about hackers breaking into your PC and planting some
frighteningly powerful trojan -- I'm talking about what Microsoft have
It must be conceded that for all their faults, Microsoft know exactly where
the money is in this new hi-tech world -- and they've spied an opportunity
that's too good to ignore.
They know that the recording industry is having a hell of a job trying to
get to grips with new technology and protecting its products against piracy.
It makes sense therefore, that if Microsoft can offer them a solution to
their woes, lots of money will change hands.
This is where Billy-G's "ownership" of your PC comes in.
Billy wants you to give him permission to install whatever bit of code
he wants onto your computer -- and also delete or disable whatever else
he wants to that might already be on your disk.
Using Microsoft's own words, here's what they want you to let them do:
"...agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software
protected by digital rights management ('Secure Content'), Microsoft may
provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be
automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates
may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other
software on your computer. If we provide such a security update, we will use
reasonable efforts to post notices on a web site explaining the update."
Yes, Billy-G wants to own your PC so that he can make sure it has
the latest version of "Digital Rights Management" (aka anti-piracy) software
installed at all times. He also wants to be able to disable any 3rd-party
software you might have installed that allows you to play potentially pirated
The quoted paragraph is from the Microsoft End User License Agreement (EULA) --
that thing you glimpse at briefly before clicking "I ACCEPT" when installing
new versions of Microsoft's Media Player and other software.
And don't count on Microsoft's definition of "reasonable efforts" when it comes to
letting you know what it's done to your PC being anything like your own definition.
After all, remember "trustworthy computing" when the company said it was going
turn the company on its head in effort to rid its products of security holes?
Stop and think for a moment or two about what this new clause in the EULA really means...
Even if you're thinking "Why should I care? I don't plan to play any pirated
music or video on my PC" -- don't get too smug.
Reflect on Microsoft's absolutely appalling track record in the area of security
for a minute or two.
Chances are that you've spent a lot of time configuring and checking your
PC so that all the (many) known security holes are patched. You've invested
a lot of effort in creating the most secure system you can -- right?
Now how are you going to feel when, without your knowledge, Microsoft comes
along and potentially wrecks all that hard work by installing a brand new
piece of possibly bug-ridden code as part of its DRM updates?
Suddenly you can no longer be sure that your machine doesn't have the "hack me"
sign hanging out can you?
Then there's the issue of whether Microsoft even has a legal right to disable
other pieces of software that you might have paid good money for -- just
because Billy-G might think that they pose too much of a threat to Microsoft's
own dominance in the DRM arena.
No -- I think Microsoft has overstepped the mark this time.
Although the legality of these click-through ELUAs have not been fully
tested, I think the risk of having to wage an expensive legal battle just
to win back control of your PC and run perfectly good software you've
paid good money for is just a little too onerous to be acceptable.
If you haven't considered the Open Source alternatives to Microsoft yet, then
now might be a very good time to do so, before Microsoft forbids that too.
Lots (and lots) of Aardvark readers have emailed me to say that they couldn't
check out The Gooey
because they were using Netscape, Mozilla, IE4.x or some other unsupported
browser. This has been duly noted.
I will be offering my thoughts on this service in the next day or two but
if you have been playing with it (you IE5.5 and IE6 users) then there's still
time to let me know what you think.
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