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Welcome to the all-new Tech Directions column, now of a higher quality than ever before! I hope that all of you will enjoy the clearer, more insightful content that comes from this greatly improved column platform.

Now, on to the content!

Wait. Just a second. The specialized “security” software that comes with my new column platform has just detected a problem. It appears that you are viewing this column using equipment that could make it possible for the column to be improperly saved, shared or PIRATED.

Fortunately for you, this new platform includes “security” measures that will protect you, the reader, from, you know, being able to view this content any way you might choose. So, for your protection, the quality of this column will be downgraded to make it less attractive to pirates or any normal consumer type.

Downgrade complete.

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See? Nearly as good as before.

OK, maybe that isn’t working out so well. And who am I kidding with that line about these measures being there for “your” protection? The only people being protected by measures like this are copyright and content owners. And the people copyright and content owners want to be protected from are their own customers. It seems these customers have the funny idea that they actually buy content and can use it on PC equipment that they think they own.

Now, I would never do something like this to my customers, er, readers. However, people who upgrade to Microsoft’s Windows Vista will quite likely run into a very similar scenario, especially if they plan to view high-quality video content on their brand-new, super-powerful PC system.

Oops, I did it again. I said on “their” brand-new, super-powerful PC system. That’s not quite right because it seems an awful lot like Microsoft and content owners are actually owning and controlling the PC systems, based on the way that some of Vista’s features work.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ review of Vista.

You see, some of the new features in Vista fit under what the Trusted Computing umbrella. Some of the Trusted Computing features are good—such as the ones that deal with encrypting and protecting personal data. But other Trusted Computing features are designed to limit what users can do with video, audio and software that they have purchased.

One of the worst of these features is something called Protected Video Path-Output Protection Management, or PVP-OPM. What this nifty little feature does is check to see what kind of monitor you have hooked up to your media-savvy Vista PC. If the monitor is brand-new, it may provide DRM (digital rights management) protection—essentially, all the way to the screen—allowing you to see, for example, the high-quality video content that you purchased.

If the monitor is older and doesn’t provide DRM capabilities—as is the case with most of the monitors in use today—Vista gives the content holders the option of downgrading the quality of the video or even blocking it altogether. And, given that the main goal of PVP-OPM is to prevent piracy, I have a feeling that many movie studios and other video content holders will choose the second, more Draconian option.

Isn’t this great? You’re a consumer who is supporting Microsoft (by upgrading to Vista), hardware vendors (by buying the latest in PC equipment) and movie studios (by purchasing movies in the highest-definition and most expensive formats available). And how do they thank you for your business? By saying, “We don’t trust you and your old monitor. We think you’re going to record the movie and share it on BitTorrent. And, even if you aren’t, we’re going to sabotage your system just on the off chance you will.”

In general, I like Vista. While it isn’t as big an upgrade on the operating system side as Microsoft Office 2007 is on the productivity side, it is still a nice update with some needed improvements. But I don’t like to be the subject of suspicion, and I don’t want Hollywood getting between me and my hardware. So I don’t plan to upgrade my home system to Vista anytime soon.

As the history of the now-dead DivX player shows, people don’t like systems that tell them how and when they can use content. Microsoft had better hope that Vista doesn’t follow DivX to the scrapheap of overly DRMed systems.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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