One potential upside of Palladium may be that it will remove fears that currently keep content producers-oh, heck, let’s just get it over and call them “Hollywood”-from opening up the digital floodgates and distributing their wares digitally. No longer will they have to worry that the MP3 I download will find its way out of my Palladium-enhanced PC vault and into the post-Napster file-sharing black market using an “unauthorized” program like Kazaa. Hollywood will still have to worry about other ways digital content will wriggle free, but the leakage from legal, digitally-transmitted content will be patched. (Biddle surprised me by saying that Palladium-protected sound files will be played through the normal media players, making the sound stream susceptible to capture; videos however will be playable only with a secure Palladium player.)Of course, there are always Macs or Linux operating systems, right? After all, Microsoft so far has not said whether Palladium will only be for Windows. But here’s where it gets really scary. If Hollywood sees 100 million machines running Palladium that can’t copy the files they sell (excuse me, license), they will be sorely tempted to release digital content in formats only Palladium can unlock. Palladium becomes the preferred player for digital content. The dreaded unholy alliance between Microsoft and Hollywood becomes real.
Paranoia? Sure, but consider the following. Microsoft is avidly pursuing the merger of television and PCs, making the download of digital content not just something for lonely geeks. Second, how else can the overkill security features of Palladium be explained? Computers can be kept virus free without locking down hardware. Precious few viruses spread by people sneaking into houses and injecting bugs directly onto hard drives. Finally, Microsoft has not done the simple and obvious thing to do to convince the user community that Palladium isn’t all about becoming Hollywood’s best pal: Make Palladium multi-platform so that you don’t have to use Windows if you want to view the latest Bruce Willis blockbuster on your computer or TV-computer combo.
Trusted computing from a convicted monopolist that would lock up mainstream content? Even if Microsoft had any credibility as a provider of secure systems (it doesn’t), Palladium should worry us.