How Copy Protection Might Stall Technology Innovation

from the not-a-happy-prediction dept

For years and years some pundits have been predicting that the Silicon Valley would mimic Detroit. That is, after a big flash of innovation, the tech world would level off and plateau into being a boring industry. That prediction didn’t make a whole lot of sense, because “technology” isn’t a single product industry like “automobiles.” Technology is a component of nearly every other industry, and hasn’t shown many signs of really slowing down at all. So, any similar comparisons always make us skeptical — but, Phil Windley has a very interesting post, bringing up the idea that copy protection systems could be the wedge that stalls out innovation in the technology world. He uses the parallel of the aircraft industry, which had tremendous growth rates early on, but then plateaued with little major changes in a long, long time. The reason wasn’t that the industry reached a natural plateau, but regulation took over — and made more adventurous innovations all but impossible except for those who had a tremendous amount of money (and who were more interested in protecting the status quo). What does that have to do with the tech world? Windley fears that the efforts by Microsoft, Intel and others to build “trusted computing” methods directly into the chips and the operating systems will have the same effect on the tech industry as government regulation had on the aircraft industry. The “hidden costs” will entrench incumbent players and make it nearly impossible to innovate.

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Comments on “How Copy Protection Might Stall Technology Innovation”

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Sv says:

Oh and...

… it’s indeed a silly comparison.

The TPM chip won’t “regulate” anything, it’ll just provide safe encrypted binaries and communication with the vendor.

Since it’s optional, new businesses don’t HAVE to use it. Who’d buy a PC that doesn’t run the last decade of software on it if it enforced TPM on every binary on the system?

nonuser says:

not a good analogy

It’s hard to think of an industry more different from consumer software than commercial airplanes. Consumer software is faddish, has practically no manufacturing costs, and can be produced by a team of a half dozen people operating out of someone’s apartment. The hardware it runs on is also cheap and gets noticeably better/faster/cheaper each year. If Microsoft, Apple, and Intel decide to arbitrarily restrict what software runs on their system, no problem; people will switch to systems running Linux or BSD running on AMD, Cyrix, or old Celeron chips. And needless to say, it hardly matters whether top tier PC makers like Dell and Lenovo join in or not – assembling a PC from parts is easy. Or the action could move to non-PC digital devices.

Now, the market for gaming console software actually does resemble what the author fears, since there are really three loosely competitive markets each controlled by the console manufacturer. But I suspect this era of captive gaming software will be over before the end of this decade. It really resembles the home computer miniboom from 1976-1986 involving Apple, Tandy, Commodore, Atari, and Amiga. Eventually, it will be replaced by a common platform standardized by a consortium of hardware and software vendors.

nonuser says:

Re: Re: not a good analogy

That could happen, though some work will have to be done to ensure consistent experience across the range of video and sound cards, monitors, CPU/memory/disk specs, other apps and utilities running in the background etc. Apple might have a better chance at pulling it off since they’ve exercised tighter control over hardware than MS or Intel does.

Also, most people have one PC that serves a variety of utilitarian purposes, often by several people in the house. But I suppose you could argue the same about the family TV set.

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