The Micro$oft/Intel Consortium's Grand Plan for the future of computing

The web page
Unix vs Micro$oft Windows - The Religious Debate here on Bluehaze touches lightly on some of the philosophical and operational differences between MS Windows and Unix, the two major Operating System platforms available to computer users today.

A few concerns are also aired, but they pale into relative insignificance when you consider Microsoft's current plan for what amounts to total control and domination of computing worldwide via Palladium. This is frightening stuff - all the more so because of their intention to bypass legal anti-trust legislation by using a consortium of industry players including Microsoft, Intel, AMD, IBM, Compaq, and HP.

Well known author, researcher and Reader in Security Engineering at the University of Cambridge (UK), Ross Anderson, first presented his paper TCPA / Palladium Frequently Asked Questions at the Open Source Software Economics conference in Toulouse in June 2002. This provides the definitive discussion of this deeply worrying concept.

Links to this paper and many other security and privacy issues are on Ross's University of Cambridge home page (although be warned - if you go via the latter and you have the slightest interest in security and cryptography, you'll end up absorbed for hours :-).

At the other extreme, you can get started quickly with a 3 minute succinct read of the main implications (of TCPA/Palladium) by browsing MS to eradicate GPL, hence Linux at The Register, or MS Palladium: A must or a menace? over at ZDNet.

I'm disappointed that a once respected company like HP would team up with Microsoft on a thing like this. One would expect it of Microsoft and Intel, of course - but Hewlett Packard? Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard must surely be turning in their graves.

One can add little here except to state the obvious - that we should all be afraid ... very afraid. If they ultimately manage to pull this one off, all innovative and low cost (or free) software such as Linux, GNU, and all the other freeware and shareware goodies we load onto our PCs would appear to be doomed. Your choice will Micro$oft software, plus any other companies who can afford to buy digital security keys from them. Period. Everything on your PC will cost you money, and just to add insult to injury, the incentive for technical innovation will essentially disappear.

What's even more worrying here is the type of bland publicity the whole concept has been receiving from the vast bulk of the mainstream media so far. Those who should know better are regurgitating Micro$oft and Intel press releases as though they were fact. These so-called technical journalists had better get their brains into gear and start considering the massive negative implications of this proposal, and fast.

What is TCPA/Palladium

TCPA/Palladium is a new security system. Unlike Unix-based security systems (SSL, PGP, Kerberos and so on) which protect private users and corporations alike, the prime purpose of TCPA/Palladium is to protect corporations and businesses from rogues - such as you.

TCPA is the hardware component of the grand scheme - it represents a new generation of PC motherboards that will include a new tattle-tale chip called `Fritz'. The other side of the coin is Palladium - this is the complimentary software component (assuming that your PC is running Microsoft Windows). Together, TCPA and Palladium will ensure that your PC can only run with hardware and software that has been approved (as in - "digitally signed") by this Intel/Micro$soft led consortium.

There is one minor drawback to this new system, mind you. Shareware, freeware, and GNU-ware will no longer run on the PC platform (including the various Unix/Linux flavours) unless the groups controlling these distributions can afford to pay the consortium for a digital signature. And if you're one of those weirdo types who prefers to build from source code - well, forget it ... this is not allowed.

But the problem of users having naughty stuff (such as free music or videos which haven't been paid for, or any information that the consortium thinks you shouldn't have) is neatly solved. TCPA/Palladium will delete it for you in a trice - fully automatically. So bad thoughts (and bad music) will be a thing of the past - the consortium will look after your new PC completely.

Windows XP

Section 21 in Ross's TCPA/Palladium FAQ (referenced above) addresses the common question When will this hit the streets?

The answer begins with the sobering phrase - "It has."

Windows 2000 (and especially XP) already represent a surreptitious beginning to Palladium. A very informative (and highly disturbing) read on the trend via Windows XP is Windows XP Shows the Direction Microsoft is Going by Michael Jennings. One can clearly see that XP is in fact already a very large, fat Micro$oft foot in your door.

The only way that this unwelcome intrusion will ever be stopped and reversed now is via (a) US legal anti-monopoly action (and pigs may fly?), or (b) the realisation by the public that Linux on a PC, or the new Apple OS X system (based on BSD Unix and the Mach kernel) are both far better solutions in every respect.

No doubt these musings will sound to some extent like "yet another Micro$oft conspiracy theory". Well, a conspiracy it certainly is, but there's very little theory about it - it's happening. (And it's one reason why I have no intention of 'upgrading' to Windows XP at this stage)

Could this be the last straw for users?

As of July 31, 2002, Microsoft's greed took further flight with changes to their licensing conditions that essentially double the cost of their software products for most businesses. The Chinese government has been monitoring this for some time and now seem to be poised to take up Linux in a major way (see reports from the China Daily and ZDNetUK .)

Many small to medium sized Western businesses have similarly been re-evaluating Linux since early 2002 for the same reason. The general mood seems to now be one of "Linux is very nearly there" and "Windows is becoming too expensive to keep up with".

Things are certainly getting interesting. It only needs a couple more of the major software manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon and "port" their desktop applications (and games :-) to Linux and the latter will almost certainly shift into hyperdrive.

As one user who currently "dual boots" into Linux or Windoze at the moment with my main desktop machine, I'd like nothing better than to remove Windoze. After all, I get no "freezing", bluescreens, reboots or viruses when I'm using Linux. So why do I continue to put up with the unreliable, insecure and virus-prone aspects of Micro$oft Windows? For the sheer convenience of two application programs - PaintShop Pro and Cool Edit. (If their authors ported them to Linux or an equivalent pair of programs were available there, I'd wipe Windows tomorrow - and so would many others.) I've had Linux running 24x7 on this web server in the office for nearly 3 years now, and the only time I reboot that is to verify a new startup script or something similar.

In fact ... when you think about it ... could Microsoft's greed be about to bring them undone in a major way perhaps? A doubling of license fees is one thing - but coupled with their absurd plans to "take over the whole game" worldwide via their Palladium project, could this just be the very opening that Linux and Unix have been waiting for?

It may well be. Although ... could the average user cope with a PC which never crashes or brings up the perennial "An exception has occurred at address 0x0028ce ..." ? Well, surprise, surprise - the creators of Linux have actually thought of this, and they've created a wonderful variety of screensavers with most of these all-too familiar Microsoft error messages. So Microsoft withdrawal symptoms should even be minimal.

Yep - things are getting very interesting.

Last update (by Tony Sanderson): 28-Jan_2003

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