Rights Management Services in Windows Vista

In December 4’s edition of eWeek, Jim Rapoza writes a piece titled “Mine! All mine!“, in which he decries the inclusion of Rights Management Services (RMS) in Windows Vista, comparing it to the rather unsuccessful launch of Circuit City’s DivX DVD player (not to be confused with the subsequent codec, DivX, that has been put into DVD players now on the market).

DivX was a protection measure that allowed Circuit City to “rent” a movie to you for watching over a couple of days, after which time the player would no longer play the disk that you had in your possession. Pretty much nobody bought a player, and Circuit City gave up on the idea – so much so that a group of openness advocates took the name and used it to make a codec for compressing movies, which is now used in more pirated movies than I care to mention.

Jim ends his article “As the history of the now-dead DivX player shows, people don’t like systems that tell them how and when they can use content.” – this would be appropriate commentary if, like the dead DivX player and disk format, the new system provided no extra features outside of RMS that made it worthwhile.

Windows Vista, with added RMS, plays existing – and new – DVDs with the same quality that you ever got before, and RMS features only come to play if the following conditions are met:

  1. You use an application that uses RMS features.

  2. The application is asked to open a piece of content that has been protected by RMS.

If the content could previously have been opened without requiring RMS, it can still be opened without activating RMS – RMS is not forced on you by the operating system, nor even by the application – it is forced on you by the provider of the content. Unlike Circuit City’s defunct DivX, this is not intended for commercial use, but for corporate use – where the purpose is to remind your honest employees that they shouldn’t be printing or forwarding sensitive email without permission, and to remind your dishonest employees that they’re about to do something that will get them fired.

Like all DRM, it can’t be made perfect – you can always take a photo of the screen, or stick a tape recorder’s microphone close to the speaker – but by having to go these more extreme routes, rather than simply printing the message, or copying the audio file, you demonstrate that you’re willing to ignore the wishes and rights of the content provider, and will happily pay the consequences.

RMS will not be the death of Vista, and its inclusion by default may even improve its adoption in corporate circles, where such protection is appropriate. RMS can be downloaded and installed on other platforms, too, should you wish to protect your documents from users of current operating systems.

If you find that content is unnecessarily protected with some form of DRM – whether it’s RMS, or some other standard – take it up with the content provider. Microsoft is in the business of making and selling technology that its customers want to buy. In this case, the customer is the content producer, and they want to buy a copy of Outlook that they can use to send their employees proprietary and confidential information with something significantly more intrusive than a “please don’t copy or print this message”.

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