Microsoft Corp. on Friday finally unveiled its plans to integrate digital rights management technology across its entire product lines. The Redmond, Wash., company announced Windows Rights Management Services (WRMS), a new technology for Windows Server 2003 that will help secure sensitive internal business information including financial reports and confidential planning documents.
An early alpha version of WRMS will be available to select testers next week, with a broad beta of the product, formerly code-named Tungsten, being released in next quarter. The product will work with applications to provide a platform-based approach to providing persistent policy rights for Web content and sensitive corporate documents of all types.
The news that Microsoft was planning to push further into digital right management technologies with a new server was first reported in eWEEK last September.
DRM technology enables content creators, such as record companies, to encrypt content and define who can decrypt it and how they can use it. Microsoft is counting on increasing adoption of the technology to help drive demand for many of its current and future products.
Microsoft currently offers a DRM system, Microsoft Windows Media Rights Manager, which is being used by seven music and video subscription services. There has been much speculation about the future of that technology when the updated DRM server was announced. Mike Nash, who is the corporate vice president of Microsofts security business unit and is spearheading the DRM strategy for all of its product lines, said Friday that WRMS does not share any code in common with the DRM platform that Microsoft currently includes in its Windows Media Series products. Instead, WRMS will rely on XrML (Extensible Rights Markup Language), an emerging standard for the expression of rights on digital content. Nash,
Last October, Microsoft agreed to pay $7 million for U.S. and foreign rights to a number of digital rights management patents held by Liquid Audio Inc.—a move that strengthened the companys growing DRM arsenal. Liquid Audio, which provides software, infrastructure and services for the secure digital delivery of media via the Internet, holds several key DRM patents. The U.S. patents cover such technologies as content distribution, audio encoding, digital watermarking, content distribution, lossless compression, secure content transfer to portable devices as well as the ability to honor territorial restrictions for digital music content.
In a statement released at the time of the deal, Liquid Audio said the terms of the deal include a royalty-free license that will allow it to continue using this patented technology in its digital distribution system.
Microsofts Nash on Friday said the initial plan is that WRMS will be a server that layers on top of Windows Server 2003, and will then later be bundled directly into future versions of Windows on the desktop and server. Microsoft is also making available to selected testers a set of WRMS application-programming interfaces. These APIs will run on desktop versions of Windows, including Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows ME, Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP, allowing them to act as secure rights-management clients that can access the WRMS server, he said.
When the second beta of Office 2003 ships in early March, Microsoft will also make available to testers new APIs in the Office suite that will turn on the Information Rights Managements DRM features that are being included in that product. Finally, later this spring, Microsoft is planning to make its WRMS software development kit available to third-party software vendors, corporate developers and systems integrators.
Nash noted that Microsofts existing Windows Media DRM and its newly introduced WRMS are just two components of this strategy. Microsoft and third-party software vendors who sign on to use WRMS are likely to add the technology to other enterprise and consumer products in the future.
"Windows Rights Management is part of our overall security strategy," Nash said. "We are giving customers a better way to protect their sensitive business information."
Nash said Microsofts hope is to get software companies and in-house developers to use Windows Rights Management to secure all of their client applications, including Web applications. Microsofts first rights-management application will be Office 2003, he added.
WRMS is built on top of the ASP.Net technology that is part of Microsofts .Net Framework. As such, WRMS can interoperate with other non-Microsoft applications and operating systems that make use of Web services standards, Nash said. Adobe is one company that Microsoft has briefed on its DRM plans. As there is not yet even a software development kit available, Adobe is not yet ready to endorse Microsofts WRMS platform, says John Landwehr, Adobe group manager for security solutions.
"We would like to work with common DRM technologies that are available out in the market," Landwehr said, adding that Adobes ePaper file format/framework currently supported multiple DRM engines today, and that Adobe itself already provided rights management across its Acrobat and eBook product lines.