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Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

Peter Gutmann has written up a paper analyzing the costs that are being introduced with the content protection mechanisms in Windows Vista. You can read the paper on his website here. Most of what’s in his paper is not new information to those of us following the development of Windows Vista, but he does a good job of summarizing a lot of the disadvantages of the new content protection mechanisms in Windows Vista.

Keep in mind that a lot of the things discussed there are also still at their version 1.0 stage of development, and it will only get worse as this technology matures. You can compare it to the way Microsoft changed Windows Genuine Crapvantage and Product Craptivation in Windows Vista and made things more complex for systems administrators in the end. Apart from the technology being in its infancy, much of it was also left out of Windows Vista because it wasn’t ready yet. This includes large parts of Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB). So if you think what is discussed in that paper is already really bad, this is to remind you of the fact that it’ll get much worse in the future if Microsoft continues their current policy.

Gutmann also mentions the following:

Note A: I’ll make a prediction at this point that, given that it’s trying to do the impossible, the Vista content protection will take less than a day to bypass if the bypass mechanism is something like a driver bug or a simple security hole that applies only to one piece of code (and can therefore be quickly patched), and less than a week to comprehensively bypass in a driver/hardware-independent manner. This doesn’t mean it’ll be broken the day or week that it appears, but simply that once a sufficiently skilled attacker is motivated to bypass the protection, it’ll take them less than a day or a week to do so.

This is a certainty. Just look at how Windows Media DRM continues to get cracked everytime, and look at how Microsoft’s latest anti-piracy efforts were easily bypassed. The only thing they achieve everytime is make the system a lot more complex and difficult to manage, not only for themselves, but also for end-users.

Not only that, but as Gutmann writes, all these extra “features” just make the software more bloated with no benefits to the end-user, and as a result requires faster hardware to run on:

Note C: We already have multiple reports from Vista reviewers of playback problems with video and audio content, with video frames dropped and audio stuttering even on high-end systems. Time will tell whether this problem is due to immature drivers, or has been caused by the overhead imposed by Vista’s content protection mechanisms interfering with playback.

If you upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, you need faster hardware to be able to do the same things you did on Windows XP with slower and cheaper hardware. And that mostly because Microsoft added loads of software that does absolutely nothing of real use to the end-user and could easily have been left out.

One of the few things in Gutmann’s paper that gives me hope for the future is the following:

I know from the Microsoft sources that contributed that many of them care deeply about providing the best possible audio/video user experience for Vista users and are quite distressed about having to spend time implementing large amounts of anti-functionality when it’s already hard enough to get things running smoothly without the intentional crippling.

I always wondered if the team working on software like Genuine Crapvantage, Product Craptivation and the other Software Craptection Platform stuff goes to work very motivated every day knowing what they have to work on. In a previous post, I also asked if the Most Evil Team at Microsoft were proud of their work. If these people are really distressed about all of this, why don’t they take action? Why continue to work on these “features”? What is our beloved Steve-O (pictured on the right) doing these days? Even Bill Gates himself recently stated that DRM causes too much pain for end users:

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

So this leads to the following question I want to ask Gates: “Why did you then allow this technology to get into Windows Vista and other Microsoft products??” Surely he was in a position to not allow this technology to make it into any final Microsoft product if he really thought that it was bad for users. Does this make sense to you? Not to me. It’s just more stuff that points to how bad Gates screwed up during Windows Vista’s development.

All this content protection technology in Vista is going to make users dislike using it. I know it will make me dislike using it if Windows keeps degrading my user experience everytime I load some unsupported and “potentially harmful” (to the content providers, obviously) software. As it is now, things like User Account Control (UAC) are already giving me a hard time when I use Vista. For example, compared to Windows XP, I have to click an additional 3-4 times to delete a file in Windows Vista thanks to UAC, while it also seems to take 5 times longer. And with the high prices for Windows Vista, it will only make it less attractive.

Let’s also not forget a recent study by Forrester Research, that showed that sales at Apple’s DRM infected iTunes Music Store have dropped off dramatically during the first half of 2006:

December 13, 2006 (Reuters) — Sales at Apple Computer Inc.’s online music shop iTunes Music Store dropped off dramatically in the first six months of 2006, according to a recent survey.

Since January, the number of monthly iTunes transactions has declined 58%, while the average size per purchase declined by 17%, leading to a 65% overall drop in monthly iTunes revenue, U.S. market research group Forrester Research Inc. said in a report on the results of a study of North American consumers.

“It is too soon to tell if this decline was seasonal, or if buyers were reaching their saturation level for digital music,” Forrester said in the report, which was published for Forrester clients last week and made available to Reuters today.

There has been some controversy over what the results of this survey actually mean, but if it really shows that sales at iTunes have declined that much, it might be because buyers were reaching their saturation level for DRM infected music. What might have happened, is that buyers are only now beginning to realize the limitations of content they buy at iTunes. The reason why they are realizing it now is probably because they are experiencing it first hand. After about 2-3 years, most of them might be upgrading their computer, or upgrading to newer iPod models or even different devices and are beginning to discover how “easy” it is to move the content they bought on iTunes over to new devices. Most of them will likely be learning a very hard lesson too. And perhaps that is what has resulted in a decline of sales through iTunes.

And if Microsoft continues with their current policy, the same thing is going to happen with all of their DRM infected products. Apart from Windows Vista, that also includes their Zune music player. People might upgrade to Windows Vista initially, but if they later discover the limitations being imposed by all the content protection software, we might see a similar decline in Windows Vista sales after some time. And just like iTunes, it won’t be clear if Windows will ever be able to recover from that since it might already be too late. Once consumers have learned the hard lesson, they aren’t likely to go back.


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » Piracy, The Better Choice (02/01/2007)
  2. Windows DRM is the ‘longest suicide note in history’ at Xl?g (04/01/2007)
  3. Karel Donk » Archive » Microsoft on Content Protection in Vista (23/01/2007)
  4. Karel Donk » Archive » Windows Vista a Disappointment (30/01/2007)
  5. In My Humble Etc. - David Cullen » Blog Archive » All of your computers now belong to us (02/02/2007)
  6. No future for high definition in Vista on the MacBook Pro | Windows Vista on a MacBook Pro (02/02/2007)
  7. Reasons NOT to purchase Windows Vista - The Liberty Lounge Political Forums (16/02/2007)
  8. » Gutmann paper cites shoddy web forum postings as source | George Ou | (01/09/2007)
  9. Karel Donk's Blog » DRM in trouble and Windows Vista sales lacking (20/12/2018)
  10. Karel Donk's Blog » WGA causes Trouble Again for Microsoft while Vista remains a Disappointment (21/12/2018)


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