One of my all-time favorite things about Microsoft is the code names it uses for its upcoming products. Throughout the years, it has used everything from city names (Chicago) to negative weather conditions (HailStorm). I love that one can almost always find two meanings in the code name—one Microsoft clearly intended and one that doesnt put the project in quite the same light but seems apt in many ways.
Recently, Microsoft dipped into the often-traditional method of turning to ancient mythology for code names. Its dual system and content protection technologies are code-named Palladium and Janus, respectively. And, once again, Microsoft has come up with code names that work whether one likes the product and its stated purpose or dislikes the product and sees a darker intent in the product and in Microsofts goals.
The code name Palladium comes from a giant statue of the goddess Pallas in the city of Troy that was a gift from the gods. The Trojans believed that as long as the statue stood within their city, the city would be safe from harm. From Microsofts point of view, this must seem like a fitting symbol, as Palladium is meant to reside within your system and protect it from malicious attackers, worms and viruses.
However, as anyone who reads mythology or has gone to the movie "Troy" knows, the statue didnt end up working all that well for Troy. In fact, the same method was used against the city when the Trojans accepted a similar giant "gift" statue—this time of a horse—and ended up having their city destroyed from within.
Critics of Microsofts Palladium find this code name apt as well, as many see Palladium as a kind of Trojan horse within users computers. Many believe Palladium will be used by software vendors and content copyright holders to get inside users computers and turn the computers against them, disabling programs whose licenses have expired, preventing the use of content until additional fees are paid, even forcing upgrades or software installations.
Janus was the Roman god of doorways, which makes perfect sense as a symbol for Microsofts upcoming Digital Rights Management update. DRM systems are clearly the doorways to protected digital content. If you have the right to read a document or listen to a song, the door opens; if not, the door slams shut, and the content stays protected.
However, there was another aspect to Janus—besides being the god of doorways, he also had two faces. And critics of most commercial DRM strategies see a lot that comes across as two-faced, especially when it comes to claiming benefits for users while providing benefits only for content companies.
One need only to read through the press release for Janus to see some of the two-faced possibilities. For example, face one in the press release says, "Consumers, content companies and technology companies stand to benefit as content continues to migrate from analog to digital devices." Face two subliminally says something like, "Once analog is gone, we can finally get rid of those pesky fair-use rights."
As face one says in the press release, "License chaining makes it easier for licenses to be renewed (a direct benefit for consumers with large content libraries filled with subscription content)." Face two subliminally says, "Well make you pay every time you want to listen to music, and if you dont, all your files become useless."
All the quotes on the quote sheet in the press release are from content companies, and none are from the users who will supposedly benefit from these DRM features. But who wants to use quotes such as, "I really loved how I lost my entire music library when I couldnt pay my subscription anymore"?
Of course, technologies like Palladium and Janus can provide benefits to users and to those who want to prevent the misuse of their content. But if they take away choices that users expect to have, users will turn to alternatives that do meet their expectations.
If that happens to your company, you might feel as if your two-faced doorman has let the enemy in to topple your protective statue and burn your city.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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