Now What?

Two or three years ago (whenever Microsoft first announced Palladium, later changed to NGSCB), Ross Anderson was a prime opponent to the concept. He never really understood NGSCB, which is about trusted programs, and always referred to it as a platform for Digital Rights Management (DRM). This was always strange to me, because Anderson and others were strongly against NGSCB and yet let Microsoft launch its real DRM platform, Rights Management Server, with nary a peep. (MS really does want to promote and use DRM, just not with NGSCB).

Anyway, Anderson’s big concern was lock-in – the idea that with NGSCB, Microsoft could lock-in its customers with Microsoft Office because the file creator held the key. Certainly, lock-in exists everywhere – why do you think we have so many different battery sizes? An attempt at lock-in that never really worked. Even train tracks and paper form printers were manufactured for lock-in. And yes, every morning the razor you use is likely to be an attempt at lockin.

So, Anderson has written things like:

"The main effect of Trusted Computing may be to increase the lock-in of users of products such as Microsoft Office, and thus in the medium term raise the prices that can be charged for them. "


"Locking competitors out of application file formats was one of the motivations for TC: see a post by Lucky Green, and go to his talk at Def Con to hear more. It’s a tactic that’s spreading beyond the computer world. Congress is getting upset at carmakers using data format lockout to stop their customers getting repairs done at independent dealers. And the Microsoft folk say they want TC everywhere, even in your watch. The economic consequences could be globally significant. "

Now Microsoft has gone and ruined everything by announcing that the next generation of Office will use XML as its primary file format.

USA Today even goes so far as to say:

The new format will make it easier for other programs to read Office documents, an improvement the software titan says is aimed at boosting workers’ productivity.

Could be a big snow job by Microsoft, and certainly it is possible to maintain lock-in simply using DRM rather than file formats. But it doesn’t seem likely that either NGSCB or Office will be promoting any lock-in that is insurmountable.

I wonder if Ross Anderson will modify his opinion on NGSCB.