But on Thursday, Microsoft ended its RMS silence by taking the wraps off the first private beta of SP1 (Service Pack 1) for RMS 1.0. (Customers interested in applying to test the product can request the SP1 beta bits by e-mailing email@example.com.)
RMS is designed to restrict access to documents, as opposed to the audio/video content that is typically controlled via DRM (digital rights management) systems. Indeed, Microsofts RMS platform is completely separate from the DRM system that is built into its Windows Media System.
In other words, Windows RMS is designed to block users from forwarding confidential documents, whereas Windows Media DRM is designed to prevent users from accessing protected audio/video files.
Microsoft made its official RMS announcement last fall. There are three components to the system: an RMS server, an RMS client and an add-on for Internet Explorer that allows RMS users who arent running Office on the desktop to view RMS-enabled apps. The first and so far only RMS-enabled application is Microsoft Office 2003. Microsoft claims there are four RMS-enabled apps: Office 2003, Word 2003, Excel 2003 and PowerPoint 2003.
Microsoft officials have said for the past year that the company is negotiating with other leading software vendors who are interested in RMS-enabling their applications, but so far none has announced its intentions to do so.
SP1—at least the first beta release of it—wont include major improvements to the core RMS product. It will add improved support for smart-card authentication; tighter Active Directory/group policy integration; and support for air gap networks. Air gap networks are networks of servers that act as private LANs with no physical connection to the Internet.
But Microsoft will add more new features to SP1 in future betas, officials said.
"This is not all SP1 will involve. Our goal was to get the beta out now," said Mario Juarez, product manager with Microsofts Security Business and Technology Unit.
The final release of RMS SP1 is due to go live by mid-2005, according to Microsoft officials.
Microsoft execs are being even tighter-lipped about RMS 2.0 than about RMS 1.0 SP1. Officials have said version 2.0 will focus more on inter-company rights management, compared with RMS 1.0, which is intra-company-focused. And with 2.0, Microsoft has committed to improving support for "inter-organizational collaboration scenarios," which would be achieved by delegating rights-management licenses across companies.
But as to how and when Microsoft will deliver the 2.0 release, mums the word. Microsoft partners have said the company is planning to build RMS 2.0 directly into future versions of Windows Server, starting with the R2 release that is due out in 2005. But Juarez would neither confirm nor deny whether this is Microsofts plan of record.