Digital rights dominate 2002 awards

Given last year's events, it should come as no surprise that digital rights dominate my 2002 'You Can't Be Serious' awards. These annual awards recognise truly astonishing achievements in IT double-think.

Given last year's events, it should come as no surprise that digital rights dominate my 2002 "You Can't Be Serious" awards. These annual awards recognise truly astonishing achievements in IT double-think.

In that spirit, the "Beverage Through the Nose" award for 2002 goes to US Congressman Howard Berman.

Be sure not to indulge in any liquid refreshment while reading Berman's statements about peer-to-peer networking published

here. In one amusing argument, he suggests that companies should be held blameless for breaking into your network to search for copyrighted content. It seems he came up with this theory because people are already given the leeway to trespass on someone's lawn to retrieve a stolen bicycle that's in plain view. To be sure, Richard Nixon's infamous Checkers speech was more inspired, but Berman's works of lunatic reasoning show great promise.

Microsoft ranked a close second in this category, but I have no pity for the poor fool with a mouthful of ginger ale when he heard Bill Gates first utter the words Trustworthy Computing last January. After hearing terms like Zero Administration Windows, everyone should know by now that it's dangerous to drink anything carbonated during an announcement from Redmond.

Nevertheless, Microsoft does run away with three major awards this year. The first is the "Information at Your Fingertips" award. How many times has this happened to you? You're at a company party shooting the breeze with your boss about the clever plot of a DVD movie you rented and watched yesterday. But when she asks about the name of the movie, your mind goes blank. Until recently, you'd have to wait until 3am for the name to come back to you.

Now the information can be as close as your cellphone. Every time you use the Windows Media Player to watch a new DVD, it automatically identifies the DVD to a Microsoft server, along with a unique identifier for your personal player.

So the next time you're on the spot for the name of some DVD you watched, give Microsoft a jingle and ask. Someone at the company should know the answer.

Naturally, this convenience will be unavailable to you if you don't use Windows Media Player. Fortunately, Microsoft devised an ingenious plan to prevent you from accidentally using less capable alternatives.

Here's how it works: along with automatic updates to software and your end-user agreement, Windows XP periodically downloads the information it needs to prevent unapproved media players from accessing DRM-enabled content.

As DRM, or digital rights management, gains momentum and all your other software stops working, Windows Media Player is sure to become the irresistible choice for all your entertainment needs.

This ability to assert remote control over your software earns the company the "Zero Degrees of Separation" award for 2002. Granted, you could miss out on features like this if you don't have a PC, but it's safe to assume that Microsoft has similar plans for the Xbox and that companies such as Disney and Sony are hard at work figuring out how to control your access to copyrighted media on standard players. Better watch out, Microsoft, or one of these other companies could nudge you out of first place in this category next year.

The third award for Microsoft is the coveted "Ignorance Is Bliss" prize for 2002. The fact that sane people still use Windows or Media Player testifies to how well the company has been able to protect its customers from information about what these products are doing without their informed consent.

Finally, Ximian walks away with "The Mouse That Squeaked" award for continuing to reproduce the .Net development framework as an open source project called Mono. The value of Mono eludes me, but perhaps there's a secret contingent of open source programmers itching to write code in Visual Basic .Net.

Nevertheless, only delusions of grandeur could account for the notion that Microsoft won't bankrupt Ximian and stop the project on claims of patent violations the moment Mono poses a threat.

Petreley is a computer consultant and author in Hayward, California. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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