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There's a spectre of a new setback on the horizon, that of Microsoft's planned Information Rights Management (IRM). IRM tools will be included in the professional versions of all Office 2003 applications, and will require Windows Server 2003 to operate. The controlling software on the server will record permission rules set by the document creators; when another user receives a protected document, they will need to log into the Windows Rights Management server to validate their authentication.
Naturally Microsoft insist these 'advancements' are being implemented at the behest of their customers. As always with Microsoft, 'upgrades' are a two-edged sword. For while some users may want document protection on the order of IRM, it's Microsoft's way of pleasing their customers which causes onlookers to raise an eyebrow.
IRM will cajole MS Office users into upgrading to a product which essentially is unchanged since 1995 - and to invest in the stale Windows Server 2003, which administrators, for many reasons including the recent onslaught of Internet worms, are increasingly wary of.
Up until now there's been a lot of activity in the office automation industry. Products such as StarOffice and the free OpenOffice have threatened to give Microsoft a run for their money. Even earlier one found a compatibility between ISV products: Microsoft, Borland, and WordPerfect all could import one another's documents.
But now things have changed. Gates has increasingly demonstrated his understanding of the future of IT as being media-oriented, and the media moguls have long since exerted pressure to limit access. And the DMCA looms as ever as a threat to everyone.
The punch line here is that Microsoft can use the hated DMCA to outlaw the competition. Perhaps importing MS Office files is not illegal; but if said files be protected by IRM, then any circumvention can be regarded as in contravention of the DMCA. Game, set, and match to Bill Gates.
Not that cracking the code to get by Microsoft's IRM protection scheme would be impossible, or even that difficult: Merely attempting to crack it is illegal in terms of the DMCA.
The advent of open source, with the Linux project, the Mozilla project, the push by IBM, the Sun Microsystems StarOffice and OpenOffice packages, has been good for the Internet and the world in general. Open source has long since demonstrated its superiority over 'closed' projects such as those run in Redmond. And the ability to communicate over platform boundaries is something we all need in this world.
But in typical fashion, the world's richest individual, possessing wealth to a degree that is nigh on incomprehensible to others, only wants more - and more and more and more - a clear cut case of unadulterated greed if there ever was one.
As has been pointed out time and again over the years, Gates has the resources to give us the most reliable software the world has ever seen, and to work towards improving the human condition in ways we have hardly begun to imagine. Instead, he continues to attempt to choke off the innovators and the good people in the industry, and is not shy in approving of each and every dirty trick to reach his goals.
Microsoft Information Rights Management is not illegal. On the contrary, it exploits current US legislation to make the products of other companies illegal. But Microsoft Information Rights Management is contrary to the spirit of free competition and a healthy climate for progress in the IT sector. The world at large should resist Microsoft Information Rights Management in any way it can.