Microsoft Corp. is pushing further into digital rights management with a plan for a DRM server due to go into beta testing later this year.
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.
The company currently offers a DRM system, Microsoft Windows Media Rights Manager, which is being used by seven music and video subscription services. But its fate, once the DRM server is released, is not clear, as Microsoft sees a broader opportunity for the DRM server solution.
“Personal information such as medical and financial data; corporate information such as legal and business documents; and commercial content such as software, music and movies may all require DRM,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman, in Redmond, Wash.
Other company officials are positioning the DRM server as an attempt to define read and write privileges more broadly than they are currently defined.
Bill Veghte, corporate vice president for the Windows .Net Server group, last week said that there are several “services” Microsoft will layer on top of Windows .Net Server 2003, as they will not be ready when the platform is released to manufacturing this year.
Microsofts goal is to find a way to incorporate a set of interfaces around DRM and its real-time communications server—code-named Greenwich—into the platform while still being able to develop and charge for solutions or services built on top of that.
This base code is likely to be made available to volume licensing customers on Microsofts regularly updated Select CD. Users who want DRM services could then layer this capability on top of any of the Windows .Net Server 2003 releases they want, Veghte said.
Microsoft has already applied for a patent for a DRM operating system but would not say if the DRM server would be based on this.
In an interview last week with eWeek, Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president for platforms, said a DRM server is but one of three server infrastructure applications coming next year (see interview).
“You can expect to see wide betas for Greenwich, the second version of SharePoint Team Services and the work we are doing in DRM, which is another server thats going to come out,” Allchin said.
Some potential DRM customers tentatively welcomed Microsofts plan. Dave DeBona, a technical consultant working for a catalog and Web retailer in Columbus, Ohio, said DRM initiatives will enable the multibranded company to better protect its brand assets in a proactive way, as opposed to the current legal alternatives.
“But, of course, any technology can be twisted and misdirected. Anyone proclaiming to protect assets for others is scary. We typically feel safer guarding our own chicken coop,” DeBona said. “We will evaluate Microsofts DRM offering, with extra attention paid to security. A healthy dose of skepticism never hurts.”
John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va., said Microsoft will likely try to “crush any DRM competition.” If successful, that would leave some 80 percent of those “digital assets” in its control, Persinger said. “While I wont use the word monopoly, you can see the dangers of that type of widespread control,” he said. ´
Additional reporting by Dennis Fisher and Mary Jo Foley, editor of Ziff Davis Microsoft Watch newsletter