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Microsoft on Content Protection in Vista

Charlie Demerjian continues to give Microsoft a hard time regarding the new DRM technologies introduced in Windows Vista. It seems Microsoft officially responded on the official Windows Vista Blog to a paper posted by Peter Guttman not too long ago. Read Demerjian’s article before you continue to read this post.

It’ll probably be no surprise to you when I say that I agree with Demerjian. Microsoft has basically confirmed everything Peter Guttman wrote in his paper, but tried to make it either sound like they were doing the consumers a favour or that they had no choice but to go along. In short, they tried to put a positive spin on it, probably hoping to brainwash everyone.

Although their response reads like PR-speak, it is certainly better than that one time when they tried to put a positive spin on WinFS development being halted. It seems they still haven’t learned much from Robert Scoble. I know there are lots of smart people working at Microsoft, but these days they seem to be letting me down a lot more often.

Demerjian already pointed out some issues in Microsoft’s response on their blog, but when you read their response, there are so many more issues I can point out. For example, Microsoft says:

Associating usage policies with commercial content is not new to Windows Vista, or to the industry. In fact, much of the functionality discussed in the paper has been part of previous versions of Windows, and hasn’t resulted in significant consumer problems as evidenced by the widespread consumer use of digital media in Windows XP. For example:

  • Standard definition DVD playback has required selective use of Macrovision ACP on analog television outputs since it was introduced in the 1990s. DVD playback on and in Windows has always supported this.
  • The ability to restrict audio outputs (e.g., S/PDIF) for certain types of content has been available since Windows Millennium Edition (ME) and has been available in all subsequent versions of Windows.
  • The Certified Output Protection Protocol (COPP) was released over 2 years ago for Windows XP, and provides applications with the ability to detect output types and enable certain protections on video outputs such as HDCP, CGMS-A, and Macrovision ACP.

Notice the attempt at trying to make people think the DRM technologies in Vista don’t matter much since such technologies have been in Windows ever since Windows Me. It’s the standard “Hey, it’s been in previous versions for over X years and nobody had any issues with it!” argument, which should lead people to have a reaction similar to “Well gee, I guess if it has been in Windows for so long, and I never even noticed it or had issues because of it, it can’t be that bad…” It’s comparable to slowly passing laws without people knowing about much of it, and then enforcing them all much later when it’s too late and pretend like nothing is wrong because they’ve existed all those years and nobody had any issues with them.

They’re only going to be able to fool people with this who don’t bother to think about it long enough. I don’t care if this technology existed and was included ever since MS-DOS 5.0!! It doesn’t matter. What matters is when it’s being used! That’s the issue here. It’s going to be used now, and people are going to start having to deal with it as a result! The fact that it existed for 7 years in Windows is irrelevant! In addition it’s gotten much worse because the technology got more advanced, and it will only get a lot more worse once the Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB – formerly Palladium) technology gets ready in the next version of Windows and they start using it for DRM enforcement.

Here’s another blatant lie:

Will Windows Vista content protection features increase CPU resource consumption?

Yes. However, the use of additional CPU cycles is inevitable, as the PC provides consumers with additional functionality. Windows Vista’s content protection features were developed to carefully balance the need to provide robust protection from commercial content while still enabling great new experiences such as HD-DVD or Blu-Ray playback.

For those of you running Windows Vista, start Windows Media Player and play a random MP3 audio file. Go into Task Manager and look for a process called “mfpmp.exe” with description “Media Foundation Protected Pipeline EXE.” Notice how much CPU it uses. On my machine it fluctuates between 10% and 20% CPU time. Other users are seeing even larger consumption of CPU resources, just check out this comment.

And now the question for Microsoft: Why exactly is mfpmp.exe needed to play an MP3 file, when you say the content protection technology is there for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray?? What additional functionality am I getting, exactly, from mfpmp.exe when I play an MP3 file? As it is now, the content protection technology just uses more resources while providing no benefits at all to the user, just like Peter Guttman wrote in his paper and we’ve all argued before. No wonder there are sometimes gaps in the audio on my PC, which by the way ran much faster on Windows XP. I thought Vista was about more robust video and audio playback?? Even high end systems have these issues. I find myself using VLC to play video files more often now because Media Player feels so slow and bloated. Even when playing MP3 files, VLC uses much less CPU resources compared to mfpmp.exe and wmplayer.exe combined!

There’s just no way Microsoft can explain away all of this. You had better own up to these issues in an honest way and start satisfying your customers soon because it’s only going to work against you. What happened to all the smart people at Microsoft? Even Bill Gates sounded stupid when he admitted DRM sucked for users, and that he is against DRM that ties content to a single device, but somehow failing to notice that the technology is being included in the latest software and hardware products from Microsoft, for which he is still responsible. What’s going on exactly? Stuff like this makes me feel like I live in Wonderland.

I’m expecting to meet Alice any day now.


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » Windows Vista a Disappointment (30/01/2007)
  2. MNteractive » DRM Part III: Windows Vista - Allow (12/02/2007)
  3. cpu - » Vista Update — It Still Sucks (13/02/2007)
  4. Dissociated Press :: DRM in Windows Vista (15/02/2007)
  5. Karel Donk » Archive » DRM in trouble and Windows Vista sales lacking (17/02/2007)
  6. Prism Webcast News » Windows Vista don’t buy it! (28/07/2007)
  7. » Gutmann paper cites shoddy web forum postings as source | George Ou | (02/09/2007)


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