An alternative to Intel's Pentium ID method

A developer of digital signal processing systems may have just the compromise Intel needs to calm customers concerned about their privacy under the Pentium III. Power markets software that copy-protects programs by noting certain physical properties of the CPU and motherboard. The method is not as specific as Intel's plan to assign a unique serial number to its Pentium III chips, which raised protests from some users who see it as invasion of privacy.

A developer of digital signal processing systems may have just the compromise Intel needs to calm customers concerned about their privacy under the Pentium III.

Power Technology, of Brisbane, California, markets software that copy-protects programs by noting certain physical properties of the CPU (central processing unit) and motherboard. The method is not as specific as Intel's plan to assign a unique serial number to its Pentium III chips, which raised protests from some users who see it as invasion of privacy.

Even Intel's recent decision to have the ID turned off as a default -- so users can choose to activate it -- did not appease some critics. Intel says the function was built in for online merchants to use when identifying and authorising users for secure electronic commerce.

Power Technology's solution is used for producing audio processing software by professional recording studios, says Paul Titchener, president. The music industry is particularly wary of the ease of copying unlicensed digital content via the Internet and is looking for unintrusive ways to protect its assets.

"Ours is not as surgically accurate as Intel's attempts to pinpoint users," Titchener says. "It's not so unique that we can identify every user."

Musicians and recording studios implement Power Technology's copy protection on software they post on the Internet. When customers download the music file, they can play it for a limited period or number of times. When they call the vendor to buy the software, they're instructed to run a script that identifies the system under Power Technology's method. The process can also be fully automated for purchases made via the Web, Titchener says.

Power Technology is seeking patents for its technology, which has been in limited use for about six months, he says. The company positions it as an less intrusive alternative to clumsier copy-protection tools.

"We've been overwhelmed by calls," Titchener says, since posting an announcement of Power Technology's solution in the wake of the recent flap over Intel's ID scheme -- although the company hasn't heard from Intel itself. Power Technology licenses its system based on volume, generally a couple dollars for each use.

Power Technology's method works on Pentium and compatible chips, and will operate on the PIII even if customers keep the ID function off, Titchener notes.

Power Technology, founded in 1992, has shipped products for four years, primarily OEM (original equipment manufacturer) technology used by manufacturers. It specialises in signal processing systems with DSP and PC hardware and software technology.

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