The FUD over Vista DRM just won’t die

Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, in between two-hour daily workouts with a snow shovel, I read a remarkable paper called A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. And I wasn’t the only one. According to Technorati, the paper has so far been linked by more than 250 blogs, and Google News finds more than 100 citations to the paper in mainstream online publications.

Too bad it’s just so wrong about so many things.

In fact, I read the whole paper – all 10,224 words of it – seven times that week, and lost count of the number of exaggerations, half-truths, unsupported statements, and flat-out errors in it. It’s a big steaming pile of FUD, with just enough truth sprinkled on top to make it seem like there’s some substance underneath it.

So why has it gotten so much circulation? Simple. Author Peter Gutmann managed to push not one but two hot buttons simultaneously, mixing an extreme anti-Microsoft rant with an extreme anti-DRM rant. It doesn’t hurt that Gutmann, an expert in cryptography who works in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (his home page lists his title as Professional Paranoid), has a razor-sharp wit and a flair for incendiary language.

Gutmann’s thesis is simple: It starts with the fact that Windows Vista contains a new set of operating system components designed to handle encrypted “premium content,” such as the output of a Blu-Ray or HD DVD drive or a CableCARD tuner. He then goes on to construct theoretical arguments based on information from anonymous sources and a few preliminary papers at Microsoft technical conferences for hardware developers.

He concluded:

Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost.

I started investigating Gutmann’s claims last January but gave up on the idea of publishing a rebuttal because I didn’t have the equipment to test his theories. Well, today I do, and I can say categorically that just about every alarmist conclusion in that paper is wrong.

The subject came up again after Gutmann was invited to deliver remarks at the Usenix Security Conference last week. When I read news accounts of his talk, I felt like I had landed in the Twilight Zone, because Gutmann isn’t describing the Windows Vista I use to watch high-definition broadcasts and listen to music. In fact, in his papers and his talks he keeps telling me that I can’t possible be doing all the things I do with Vista every day, which is confusing the hell out of me. That’s why I prepared five questions for Peter Gutmann, which I’ve posted at ZDNet:

Busting the FUD about Vista’s DRM

I’m also planning to put together a FAQ on the subject. So, if you’ve got questions about Vista, video, and DRM (especially questions based on the assertions in Gutmann’s paper), post them in the comments here.

23 thoughts on “The FUD over Vista DRM just won’t die

  1. Perhaps Gutmann’s best advice is the following: “If you don’t believe what you’ve read here, go back to Microsoft’s own documentation and read that (in fact read the Microsoft documents no matter what you believe, because they’re quite scary). If you still think it’s FUD then you can at least post informed comments about it.

    I’m not sure I can blame it on DRM, but I do know that despite having 8G of memory and a $700 killer videocard in my system, HD playback is jumpy and jerky. (Yes, I have all the latest drivers and last week’s Vista updates.) Most of his other points are well-documented (e.g., increased hardware costs).

    Ed, you seem to be going out of your way to defend an OS that, let’s face it, very few people like. FUD or no, Vista has been tagged as a bad OS. I know more people who have downgraded back to XP — after buying Vista or a computer with Vista pre-installed — than I care to count. That phenomenon is really rather unprecedented. Vista is expensive, slow, no more secure than XP, and above all else, does not improve my “user experience” in any measurable way. As a user, all I want to know is why is the EULA so restrictive when Microsoft is essentially giving it away to citizens of China, and how come copying and deleting files in Vista is so painfully slow?

    Joe Wilcox’s article, Broken Windows is well worth reading on why users aren’t taken by Vista.

  2. Zaine, you’re right,, you can’t blame your poor HD performance on DRM. You should get a refund on that video card, because I get absolutely perfect HD output on my $79 ATI card.

    And I’m not going out of my way to “defend” anything. I state the facts and I describe my experience, which is a hell of a lot more than Gutmann does.

    I hear from people every day who like Vista. Sorry if that doesn’t match up with your experience, but there ya go.

    PS: I could make a lot more money than I do if I went into the Microsoft-bashing business. I stopped reading Joe Wilcox long ago because he seems more concerned with trolling for hits than for getting basic facts right. Just search for his name on this site.

  3. I wrote up a counter for it a while back at essentially saying that it’s up to applications what to do with the DRM features of Windows Vista (briefing debunking all the utter nonsense like music CDs not playing). I noticed Paul Thurrot while getting his 360 HD DVD drive working on his Vista box, came across PowerDVD refusing to play due to lack of HDCP on his monitor, yet AnyDVD HD working fine, ignoring the protection.

    Which I think clearly backs up our position that this is FUD, if Windows Vista was being evil, like they claim, nothing would play the content.

  4. I’m sick and tired of this particular issue because I keep running into people who think the DRM has something to do with “If I copy my MP3s / Word documents / pr0n to Vista, does that mean I can’t move them to another computer?” The bit about music CDs not working is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s amazing how far this one has gotten unchecked. It takes a bit of patient explaining — and a demonstration of my own PC running Vista, where nothing is DRMed anyway — to dispell this. (Plus, as far as I can tell, the content that would be protected by these schemes hasn’t even come to market yet, has it?)

    I’m all for freedom and openness on the PC, but not at the expense of the facts.

  5. It’s natural you’d hear from Vista and Microsoft supporters more than the “bashers.” I’d never even heard of “downgrading” before Vista came along. That in and of itself should tell you that something is wrong. All critics are not wrong all the time. You yourself call them as you see them, especially when it comes to Microsoft. Yet, you seem more sensitive to Vista criticism is all I’m saying.

    Having been their biggest defender for well over a decade, I’ve become loudly critical of Microsoft for a wide variety of reasons, none of which are my fault. In the end, perhaps some of the blame goes to Microsoft itself for this whole DRM mess, which is as clear as their EULA, and about as fair as the range of prices they charge around the globe for Vista. If this is the direction Microsoft wants to go, then count me out. The hassle isn’t worth the price of admission.

  6. “It’s natural you’d hear from Vista and Microsoft supporters more than the “bashers.” ”

    Frankly, I hope that makes sense to you, because it doesn’t to me. Moreover, many of these “bashers” that you refer to haven’t even used the OS themselves. They hear stories from someone, who heard them from someone else and put it up on their blog , sometimes even in first person. Soon, the web is full of these so called Vista flop stories. As Bott mentions, Microsoft bashing is a more lucrative business. Why do you think a “Microsoft is dying” post generated so much attention?

  7. So, having read the links posted here, and on the main ZDnet page, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter is probably a doofus. That’s fine.

    The one point that I see glossed-over from Ed and George is concerning the actual playback of actual protected content.

    See, the Microsoft blog makes this interesting claim. It says that the industry probably won’t enable the “higher level protection[s]” until 2011 or so. Okay, so that means there’s a dearth of protected content out there today.

    Since Peter’s paper revolves around all the mechanisms for playing protected content (his secondary claims about the effects of this stuff on non-protected content have been thoroughly debunked, IMO), I think someone needs to get ahold of some DRM’d HD “premium content,” and then do that part of the research. By that, I mean something that does the ICT, or whatever it is that Guttman is whining about. As I understand it (I could be wrong, of course), HD-DVD or Blu-ray doesn’t (currently) enable the Vista protections that Guttman is talking about.

    Ed, you mentioned that you recorded something from NBC? I take it that you recorded that from terrestrial antenna or other unencrypted source? If you did in fact record from a Cablecard, I’d edit your main post to reflect that. It would show that you have protected content that you played back perfectly on lowend hardware. Slam dunk.

  8. I am in the IT Pro business ,and we have been evaluating Vista since its early Beta days. The reason we have not moved to Vista is not due to any performance issues or waiting for a service pack.

    Businesses take time to adopt and rollout new technology.

    But from our day to day experience, Vista is vastly superior to XP on new class of machines (Dual Core 2).

    as for home use, I am running Vista on several of my home machines and other then problems that were corrected in last weeks patches, I have not have any problems with multimedia files. As for Gaming performance

    Is Vista the best OS ever, thats for each person to judge, but as for myself and my team here we are convinced that the UI and security ,improvements is definitely worth our investment.

    As for he person who never hard of “Downgrading” prior to Vista. well maybee he/she is mispoke. I have been in the IT industry since 1986 and downgrades happen all the time with new computers.

    Commodore 128, went back to Commodore 64, etc….


  9. Well I took the plunge and upgraded to Home Premium about a month ago. To be honest with you, I have to say I’m dissapointed because it feels like a
    lot of things are just plain annoying now, even after all the performance & reliability patches:

    For instance, I couldn’t access a printer/scanner over the network (recently fixed) which was a major hassel. And no, it wasn’t a driver issue.
    Sometimes installers just don’t install, and i have NO idea why. They just keep hanging forever.
    Windows update refuses to update!! This is a really weird bug….it just keeps checking for updates forever and not downloading anything or
    even saying that it found nothing to update.
    Worst of all, it doesn’t like my router’s SPI firewall. I had to turn that off (ridiculous!!), and even with that disabled I still feel
    like my 1.2MB cable connection is like dial-up, esp with multiple tabs open. (Didn’t have this issue with XP).

    Having said that, there are a few things to like in Vista. I love the media center and the new graphics. But with my hardware firewall off,
    and with that damned annoying UAC thing off, does this OS make me feel more secure? Definitely not. I feel like I was as secure with
    XP, if not less (although of course there are more security features in Vista like ASLR, etc) so.

  10. Evilkat, none of those experiences are normal. I have installed and used (or helped other people) use Vista on dozens of machines. Installers either work or they fail for a reason. Updates work or they fail with an error code. The issues with SPI firewalls were fixed before RTM. Most importantly, I don’t see any similar reports in newsgroups or forums.

    It sounds like you have something seriously wrong in your environment. Every issue you mention is network related. Can you borrow a different router and see if the problems persist? Or try a direct connection and see if updates work.

  11. Ed, I can try a different router to see if it works, but apart from fixing the SPI issue, I can’t say that it will really help. The router I own is a Linksys WRT54G and I have seen a few issues mentioned about Vista and this particular router. It might be worth a shot to try it with a different router, but my XP boxes are working perfectly well with the router, so I’m not sure I want to spend more money buying a router just to fix Vista (which I may have to do if this keeps up!).

    But what worries me more is the windows update issue. After a few reboots the update finally did download and install. However there’s a set of update that I keep needing to download and re-installing forever and ever:

    NVIDIA – system – nForce Memory Controller

    Installation date: ‎8/‎16/‎2007 6:42 PM

    Installation status: Successful

    Update type: Optional

    Driver update provided by NVIDIA for support of nForce Memory Controller

    This has been downloaded and installed successfully no less than 30 times!!! I kid you not, I can give you screen shots.

    The nForce4 PCI-Express Root port,NVIDIA – system – nForce HyperTransport Bridge, raid controller, and a bunch of other nvidia chipset drivers have been installed at least 5 times (not 30 times like the memory controller above!).

    They HyperTransport bridge appears to be downloaded and installed on ‘Review Update History’ console. If you go to view the Installed Updates console however, NONE of the optional updates are listed (is there a setting for this some place?). Finally if I go to the device manager and lookup the hyper transport bridge, it shows that there is no driver installed for this device!! Yikes!!!

    I find it hard to believe this is all because of my router…but I’m desperate to figure out what’s going on here. I’ll see if I can find a spare router someone might have and give it a shot.

  12. Evilkat, I see two things in your post that tells me you may have two problems. The first is the NVIDIA components. I have ran vista on ATI and NVIDIA platforms and I will have to agree with Ed’s previous posts on the problems with NVIDIA. I happen to have lost TWO (count them) two hard drives on a laptop running NVIDIA’s garbage. On my ATI based machine I have had zero problems. You might want to run some BIOS diagnostics to check on any hardware problems you might be encountering. The second is the Linksys router. I work in IT and we use alot of those routers and they are like flipping a coin. Sometimes you get a good one and some you get a strange lemon. Some of our little wireless routers we use need to be reset once a week and others go months. There is no logic to it. 99.95 percent of our machines run XP btw. As far as the Vista FUD. I will say this about the OS. I myself have zero problems with it. No problems with DRM, etc. What I have found is Vista will let you know real quick if you are using CRAPWARE. I sat in on a new technology Demo from an education company, and the salesperson told lies, after lies. I asked specifically about limited accounts, driver signing, and vista compatibility. Oh yes it is fine, according to the salesperson. When the company didn’t even sign their drivers, it told me they were not serious or careful about their software development. When I tried to install it on Vista, the OS warned me several times not to. Of course I installed anyway and the machine locked up. So is it the OS’s fault, or is the crappy developer that should have coded the software in a professional manner?? When you answer that question, you will know where you stand on the Vista vs. XP downgrade debate.

  13. RL, I wouldn’t mind buying your argument about the hardware if neither worked under XP…but the fact of the matter is, they both worked FLAWLESSLY under XP with zero issues. I’m willing to find a way to make these guys play nice with Vista, but I am beginning to understand why a lot of people prefer to downgrade.

    But there’s just GOT to be a better solution to this 😦 😦

  14. Right. The drivers for your hardware are reasonably mature under XP and problematic under Vista. It is, IMO, a reasonable choice to say you don’t want to hassle with it at this point and will wait till the drivers are better.

    Two points are worth emphasizing:

    Your experience is not typical. That strongly suggests (close to actual proof) that the issue is not Vista but some combination of hardware/drivers.
    No, I don’t believe this is all because of your router. It is your networking environment, which includes the components on your motherboard as well as your router. Have you been to Nvidia’s site or that of your mobo maker to get the latest Vista drivers? That would be preferable at this point to trying to get (older) drivers through WU.

  15. Jon, Gutmann doesn’t say that this DRM stuff only affects you if you play back premium content. He says that this DRM stuff affects ALL hardware and EVERYONE running Vista.

  16. Evilkat, Ed is right on his comments. The XP drivers are more mature. That being said keep in mind that hardware manufacturers have pushed the envelope of what can be done with XP including the MS HD audio bus driver that MS specifically crafted for hardware manufacturers when they pushed passed the limits of XP. If you want to see what Vista can do, and if this a hardware engineering problem, then download virtual pc 2007 (available as a free download from MS) and load Vista on it. Since it’s virtual, you should see zero problems with your install. Besides it’s a fun little tool to play with. I don’t mean to sound like an MS fanboy, but if the specs on Vista have been out for a year plus and the PC industry was your bread and butter, don’t you think as a hardware manufacturer you would have your stuff together? I am ready to see what AMD and ATI have coming down the pipe, especially considering that they have pushed their company forward to using Vista even now.

  17. I’ll try your suggestion about the drivers and get it straight from Nvidia, instead of WU….I had read that the WU version of the fixes were supposed to be the latest/greatest…but maybe it’s not!! I agree with everyone’s comments about drivers not being where they need to be. You only have to look at Creative’s Drivers to see how badly off Audigy 2 owners are before you realize how much more work remains to be done.

    What WOULD be interesting to see is if what I’m experiencing is the typical case or not. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with a Linksys WRTG54v2 router and an nforce4 board !!!

  18. Ok, my main Vista beef is as follows.

    I have a core 2 duo, 2GHz, 2 GB ram and plenty of space with a nice nVidia card to run my games. Laptop, set up by dell, aero off, none of my little user tweeks added … yet. Basically, your out of the box experience, right? Ok, tell me, why does the system monitor show 15% proc usage and 1GB RAM usage when I’m idling? And don’t try to tell me that is a norm, XP idled much lower on a 1.7 gh pentium m with a gig of ram and LOADS of lil extras running in the background. Around 2% and half gig usage.

  19. I really never ran into drm before.Maybe just one time or 2 times.
    And i really dont know that reason too.
    I had some music files,in .mp3 which i wanted to use in my pocketpc,and becouse of size,i converted them into .wma.some of my files refused to play becouse of drm.I really dont know why some file them-like 2 or 3-,but maybe i did something wrong or….

    But about windows vista,i purchased a laptop with vista,and just after a week i felt like downgrading into xp.
    Why?well,simply lots of video driver crashes(with my 6600 nvidia).Cpu usage was high,and most important of them all,none of my applications worked ok on vista.

    I am a civil engineer,i use ansys,etabs,sap,autocad(these are names of programs i use)and all of them had issues with vista.(maybe their developers fault,but why should i care,they dont work!)
    Some of them failed at startup,some of them worked but with minor/major problems.

    Had lots of issues making my home network work.Lots of issues with new internet explorer.
    UAC was driving me crazy,and i couldnt turn it off.(i didnt know how,maybe i was lazy searching internet,or maybe it doesnt turn off,dont know!)

    So i thought what are the benefits of vista?why should i even upgrade?i have no problems using xp for gaming,bussines,my work, anything.
    And if i feel like using these aero and other stuff new in vista,i buy a mac,or ubuntu + xgl or compiz(these even have very cuter animation/effects),or simply install vistainspirant.

    My experience was about 5 month ago,never tried it again,with updates,but why bother?!

    And believe me,still i see lots of new peaple buying laptops with preinstalled vistas,they like it for first two weeks,and almost all of them install xp!
    the reason i hear is application compatibility!

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