DRM and proprietary software screw users again.


When you install or first run a Microsoft operating system, the computer wants to communicate with a server at Microsoft to learn if it is a legally obtained copy or not. If the OS isn’t deemed legal by Microsoft’s server, or if there’s no response from Microsoft’s server, the OS will run with what is described as “reduced functionality” by one Microsoft representative. This is also known as a form of DRM (digital restrictions management); the proprietor gets to determine how legally obtained software will operate even after it has been obtained. Some proprietors, like Apple, use the power of DRM software to change the terms of the deal after a sale is made. The only way to implement DRM is with proprietary software. After all, if the software respected a user’s freedoms to share and modify the program, someone would distribute their version with the DRM parts ripped out. Only proprietors like DRM. Paraphrasing Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing, nobody wakes up and wishes they could do less with their computer than they expected to do when they bought it.

What just happened

Today Microsoft Windows XP and Vista users received an unpleasant education in the power of proprietary software and DRM.

Boing Boing has the scoop: Microsoft’s DRM server died.

The result: users of legitimate Microsoft Windows XP and Vista are being told their installations are counterfeit and denied the full use of the software. Only the proprietor (Microsoft, in this case) can restore the full functionality of the software.

On the Microsoft forums “Doug in Singapore” says Microsoft’s response is:

Thank you for your response.

I’m sorry to inform you that the Windows Genuine server might be down for few days. I have escalate the issue to our Genuine team, kindly try to validate again on Tuesday 28 Aug 2007.

Thank you for contacting Microsoft Technical Support.

One of the more hilarious responses comes from “ARGlen” (apparently a Windows Vista user) who writes

I was contemplating going back to XP and this may just be the straw that does it.

Yeah, that’ll show ’em who’s boss.

Phil Liu, program manager at Microsoft promises “an explanation and resolution as soon as humanly possible”. I think we’ve already got that: digital restrictions management is a concept which is broken by design and only hurts people who are trying to legitimately obtain the software/hardware in question. We learned this decades ago with copy restrictions on home computer software from the 1980’s.

When will users stop choosing to take this kind of treatment? Are we going to have to let it get to the point where machines are equipped with GPS units (global positioning system devices allow one’s physical location on the planet to be determined) and have some installer program automatically contact local police to detain you for copyright infringement when the program detects an illicit installation?