DRM – The way forward?

DRM – Digital Rights Management – has been a very contentious issue in my life. To date I have refused to part with any money for music containing DRM and instead buy my own CDs and rip them onto my own PC, enabling me to have my own digital jukeboxes that I feel I control.

Not alone, many people resent the idea that they are being controlled by the music or movie industry, for good reason:

  • You are restricted in use of what you buy. iTunes, PlayForSure and the Zune are all good examples of this – you buy for one player and are then locked in. You then have to re-purchase something you feel you already own just because you’ve bought a new digital player. Compare this to buying a new CD player.
  • You cannot protect your purchase. Unlike houses, cars and banks, PCs are inherently unreliable devices. If you buy a CD you can take a copy and use that while protecting your investment. Your house is unlikely to burn down and if it does you typically have insurance to cover that. PCs can catch a data destroying virus, corrupt themselves or simply break down meaning loss of investment. Some DRM systems permit backup copies to be taken but typically the process is to complex for the casual user.

From the industries perspective, they are looking to protect an investment. The Internet makes file sharing far too simple in their eyes – programs like Kazza robbing them of revenue. So they attempt to protect their investment, the bad thing being it is only an attempt and not a solution.

Unfortunately there is currently no technology that will ever be a fool proof method of protection. There is no magic pill that can taken. For every layer of protection added, a cracker goes and gets a debugger out and bypasses it. Unless we get to a fully-implemented Trusted Computing world, there can be no way that you guarantee that a program or operating system hasn’t been subverted into bypassing a protection mechanism. With the release of Microsoft Windows Vista, we are given small reasons for hardware manufacturers to bring TPM technology into their PCs with the introduction of BitKeeper technology – this is the first step on a slippery slope that has both positive and negative social implications. Personally I am against a full TC implementation, so I think simpler solutions have to be found.

From a practical perspective, I actually have no problem with a file having extra security information added, providing it offers this:

  • I can use the file on any device I want
  • If I loose the file, I can get it back again. For free.

This sounds as if it completely conflicts against the aims of DRM, and I guess it does. Rather than focus on the file owner and their rights, industry should move the focus to the consumer. Introduce a system whose aim is not to try and lock the CD in a vault, but one whose aim is merely to identify whose CD it is. A new system not managed by Microsoft, or the music industry, or a government. Rather one managed by the people. An open standard. Managed by a non-profit independent group. A group whose job isn’t to care about what a file is. What it contains or what its value is. A group solely responsible for signing it with the purchaser’s details. A digital certificate. Just like SSL.
Yes, this will never be fully secure, but that is not really the aim. A CD can be copied. Yes there will be abuse. People will download files to multiple computers. A CD can be ripped many times. There is no perfect world, but there should be an platform that exists, that can be openly implemented on any operating system that enables a person to purchase a music file, have evidence that they have bought it and a way of identifying whose file it is. Think any file too. Books, personal documents. Images. Anything made of bytes.

There will never be a DRM lock-in system that works, so the industry should take a new less restrictive approach and give us the flexibility of the CD back.  Then I’ll spend my $ online too.

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Vista with VMWare – speedup

Something that I’ve noticed recently is that Vista spends a lot of time continually accessing my hard disks, and thanks to the Resource Monitor, it is possible to see what files are being accessed now days.

On my system, 100’s of megabytes were being read from my .VMDK files. At first I thought this was just VMWare, but I’ve realised that actually the Vista search indexer is indexing these files in the background because they are stored under my profile directory.

Everytime I run VMWare, the disk files are modified causing Vista to re-index them.

A speed up is to go into the Vista Control Panel, into the search options and remove these file types from being indexed:

.VMDK (VMWare Disk)
.VHD (A Microsoft Virtual PC disk image I believe)
.VMEM (VMWare Memory dump)
If you remove (uncheck) these, you will find that the indexer spends much less time eating your hard disk, resulting in a system speedup. (Note: You may have to add .vhd as a filetype).

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Crystal Reports: Invalid Table Number

Ok, here’s the solution to a problem that I had that took me a while to work out.

This solution isn’t posted anywhere on the internet and the closest to it is ‘I re-installed my PC’.

What I had happening was when I was changing the Location of a Crystal Reports table to change the database details:

foreach (CrystalDecisions.CrystalReports.Engine.Table crTable in crTables)
{
crTableLogOnInfo = crTable.LogOnInfo;
crTableLogOnInfo.ConnectionInfo = crConnectionInfo;
crTable.ApplyLogOnInfo(crTableLogOnInfo);
crTable.Location = DatabaseName+”.dbo.” + crTable.Location.Substring(crTable.Location.LastIndexOf(“.”) + 1);
}

This final line would error out with an Invalid Table Number. The cause it turns out is not a bad Crystal version or installation, but rather a broken ASPNET user account.

When Crystal runs, it runs in the aspnet_wp.exe process, which runs as ASPNET local user. Somehow when I renamed my computer name, it messed up the SQL server authentication of that user. And re-adding the COMPUTER\ASPNET user to SQL didn’t seem to want to work. It acted exactly like my ASPNET user was not really COMPUTER\ASPNET. Stranger still, my ASPNET webpages did work, just not Crystal.

The solution: I manually deleted my Windows ASPNET user, used “aspnet_regiis -i” to then re-create the user correctly, re-added that user to my SQL Server and then re-booted my PC.

As if by magic, problem solved.

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Vista RTM Experiences 8

This thing is buggier than I thought. Somehow my CD/DVD is now unusable from the Vista Explorer. I stick a disk in the drive and if I click on the D: drive, it prompts me to Burn a Disc. This is despite the disc being un-burnable.

I cannot see any files or anything, however if I go to a CMD prompt, I can see everything perfectly. Likewise, a VMWare machine sees the disc perfectly too.

I’m guessing this is a corrupt registry or something… either way, it should work and now doesn’t.

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Vista RTM Experiences Day 7

Thankfully manufacturers are starting to put out drivers for Vista.  An example is Lenovo who this week released a Power Management driver and Active Protection System version specifically for Vista.

The Power Management was odd because when I first installed Vista I had the battery icon, but a short time after that it vanished never to come back.  This new driver now means I can see the state of the battery, even if it doesn’t appear to change the actual workings – my batteries now last what appears to be the same time as before.   Neither times being anywhere near that of XP – Vista is a power hog.

There are some oddities still – for instance you browse to a network server, provide credentials and login, checking the box that says Remember Me or whatever it is.  Under XP next time you browsed back it would just log you in.  Now you have to re-type everything and it doesn’t remember the login.

I’ve decided that ReadyBoost does perhaps help.  I updated my SD card drivers and the I/O appears slightly quicker and so doesn’t destroy the computer when mirroring data.  That and the fact that I changed the SD card options to performance – I run the risk of loosing data more, but the SD card now operates much quicker and so makes ReadyBoost actually help a little.  Especially when the PC has many programs loaded.

There are some memory bugs for sure.  At a low level somewhere.  Twice I’ve had Vista just spin off into infinity, churning the hard drive – one of those times I was watching in Task Manager and something allocated over 3 GB pagefile.  The trouble is everything continues to run but new things stop working when that happens – you can swap windows but not start a new program.  I’m guessing there is a bug in the new Desktop Window Manager as it seems to be random as to the application that causes it.

Oh yes, a good thing: Extended desktops are accelerated in Vista.  Unlike in XP where my second desktop appeared to have a software driver for DirectX.  Under Vista a DirectX appears to run the same speed on either screen.

One amusing thing is the new Reliability Monitor.  On my system the graph is headed downhill.

The new icon view is very cool – you can scale the icons to any size.  The picture browser/printer is really powerful too.

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Vista RTM Experiences Day 6

Not quite day 6 I know, but more of my latest incarnation of experience:

ReadyBoost… the best way to slow your computer down and waste your laptop battery.

I was excited to read about this feature so promptly went and bought a 2GB SD card rated at 133x.  I plugged it into my Thinkpad’s built in slot that is on a PCI bus and I guess was more curious as to what the effect would be than was expecting miracle speeds.

My PC has 1.5GB RAM so when I plugged the SD card in it offered to boost my PC’s performance.  I selected through and it offered to allocate 1800MB I believe.  An odd number since the slider goes up to 1900MB, but I kept the defaults.

The next oddity was that it spent an age apparently copying data from the hard disk to memory.  During that time about 20% CPU was used and things slowed down.  Fair enough… gotta create some kind of baseline.

So I then continued to use my PC… noticing that the hard drive access speed was now slower, and that the SD card would be sometimes be being written too.   My concept of slower is subjective of course, but the drive light appeared to be on much more and I can definitely say things were not any faster.

I then hibernated my PC and get on a flight.  On un-hibernating it, the next 15 minutes was spent copying data from the hard drive to the SD again.  Great use of battery!

From reading around, it appears that data is always first written to the hard drive and then the most frequently requested page file pages are duplicated to the SD card.  Then if the OS needs those pages, it requests them from SD not the drive, supposedly speeding up access due to the lower latency (Seek time) on flash memory.

All I can say is that the overhead of mirroring all that data appears to outweigh the benefit of a tiny speed up very occasionally.  Now if it wrote straight to the SD and later mirrored to the drive, there would be potentially be a speed up I guess.  I wouldn’t mind not removing the card without doing a ‘safe removal’ but I guess there are a lot of forgetful people that wouldn’t work for hence the current mode of operation.

Perhaps on PCs with a smaller ammount of memory it might have a greater benefit too.  It’s not the easiest system to measure either as there are so many other caching and memory management systems in place that supposedly monitor and tailor things to the way you work that subjective might be the only tests possible.

An annoyance: my power icon has gone missing.  Wonderful.  That little notify icon that shows the power level has vanished.  The option in the toolbar section to show it is grayed out.  But the power management does appear to be following the power schemes.

Other news… Delphi 7 works with a few directory permission tweaks.

That major issue with operations not happening on the expected directory still bugs me.  I’ve almost deleted my C drive several times.

The TCP/IP has changed – XP always assigned a default 169.254.x.x address if no DHCP server was around.  Vista doesn’t.

Anything good to report… umm not that I can think of!

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Things wrong with Vista RTM Day 5

Serial ports must be such a security risk these days. Let’s face it, most PC’s don’t even come with them but for Vista, unless you run a program as an administrator, you cannot open a serial port.

Enough said.

It took me about 2 hours to get WinAVR to run on my Vista PC. I almost gave up and installed it into a Virtual PC, but by fudging with symbolics links and some selective file copying, I managed to get it going. No ideal, in fact far from it but for me, it works which is all I need. Hopefully by the time I upgrade again someone will have fixed things properly.

While generally things look much prettier, the fonts have taken a backward step. In XP they were readable, in Vista, well you have look:

Vista font issue

It should say ‘view’ and ‘VISTA’.  In other places, the left margains don’t line up. Perhaps a consequence of offloading the graphics to your super high-tech graphics card is that it doesn’t render as well?

There was another oddity in Acrobat Reader today as well. I was viewing a PDF in a web page and pressed the save button. The standard save dialog – a standard part of windows – was displayed and I browsed through the structure to the location where I wanted to save the file. We’re good till that point. Next I did what I normally do when a filename is long like a session variable – I clicked on an existing file ’25_aug_2005.pdf’, and over-wrote the name in the filename area below. Then I clicked save, to which I was asked if I wanted to overwrite my file! This was despite there being a totally new name in the filename box. It turns out that if you first select a file you cannot type a filename in the editing box. Oops. I’m not sure if this is Acrobat Reader only, but since it was that standard dialog, I suspect it does this everywhere.

I started the day thinking that I’d write a positive review finally, but my day was ruined by the WinAVR exercise, so yet another day of Vista troubles. This really does feel like RC3, not RTM.

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Things wrong with Vista RTM Day 4

The bad:

PPTP VPN to Monowall doesn’t work.  XP worked fine.

Onecare keeps putting up little messages to tell me it is up to date.  Please tell me if it has a problem staying up to date, but messages like that are pointless.

The good:

I bought a new network printer and the installation was so simple.  If drivers exist, installation of devices appears to be very smooth.  It didn’t detect that the printer had a duplexing unit built in, but that was simple to change.  Printing appears very quick and stable, although for some reason if you multi-click more than about 10 files and right-click to Print, the menu disappears.  Not sure why you cannot bulk print 100 files as easily as 10.

Standby now appears to work as expected.  I think the problem is that you press a key to bring the system awake, but the screens stay blank until the mouse is moved – just like the screens have gone to sleep and not been woken up.

Generally I’m feeling happier about Vista now.  The search tool being on the start menu is nicer than desktop search that stole some of your taskbar.  The search is really quick and is a faster way to find programs that drilling through the start menu.  A really neat feature.

The media player feels better than WMP11 on XP did too.  I liked the feature that when I played a video file, it permitted me to resume playing my previous playlist.  I hadn’t seen that under XP.

I’m getting used to the new explorer layout and can say that the favorites section is actually really useful.  So many times you open an explorer to drill down to the same location.  Initially I thought it was wasted space, but having put 5 or so key directories on the favorites list, it actually is much quicker to get to where you want.

Now things are up and running I’m much happier.  More tomorrow.

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Things wrong with Vista RTM Day 3

Today the system was running a little more smoothly. Mostly. I think that the defragmenter and search indexers that had been running in the background have finally finished re-organizing my PC.

However I tried to have a Skype conversation and that was disastrous. While I could hear the other person fine all the time, they could only sometimes hear me. For some reason my microphone audio would drop out. To start with I thought it was when the CPU hit 100% due to me using an application while talking with them, but I’m not convinced that was the total reason. A PC not being able to steam audio is not good though.

It could equally have been the network dropping UDP packets, but why only outbound traffic? Basically Skype is worthless on Vista though – perhaps by design (conspiracy theories commence), but most likely due to driver issues.

I now have the IBM TPM driver for Vista installed, hoping that it would enable me to use the BitLocker protection, but the control panel for that says it doesn’t support it. Worse, it looks like you have to partition your drive in a weird manner to use BitLocker. I’ve no idea why… I hate dual partitions so maybe I won’t use that.

Still no sign of IBM Active Protection for Vista, or any Biometrics.

Oh yes, Sleep mode, that supposedly instant on, took about 2 minutes to un-sleep this morning. I think a full boot may be quicker.

Also, yesterday I did a hibernate, my usual way of turning the machine off overnight, and the screen goes black where you used to have that progress bar showing the percent saved to disk. Talk about taking a step back.

On a positive note, it is pretty. The new window design really is sweet.

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Things wrong with Vista RTM Day 2

Well today was a mix, with probably more bad than good.

I ‘ve found that sometimes Vista isn’t responsive.  In fact it has a nasty habit of occasionally disappearing into the dust for a few minutes with the hard disk rattling away.  I’m guessing this is what happens when there isn’t enough memory, even though I have 1.5GB RAM.

My shock today was a very dangerous Explorer bug.  Basically right click doesn’t always act on the directory you right click on.  I’ve reported it in the Vista Newsgroups on MS – it is reproducable but I won’t repeat myself here.

UAC turns out to be not as bad as you’d expect in real life, but I have serious concerns as to the usefulness of it.  After all, I always press Yes to permit the program to do what it needs, and while I might know when something unexpected happens that I should press No, I’m sure the general public will get used to pressing Yes so often that they will press it when they shouldn’t.  Not really security then is it?  More a continuous pain that offers no gain.

Amazing. Mid-typing I got one of those other strange occurrances – the system almost locks up and the mouse jumps in slow massive steps across the screen.  No obvious hard drive access that time, but there has to be a kernel driver issue somewhere to cause the whole OS to block.

My sound breaks up when using Skype if there is >90% CPU utilization.

That’s all for today. So far.

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