The Cost Analysis of Vista

If you haven’t read all the way through Peter Gutmann’s brilliant online treatise, A Cost Analysis of Vista Content Protection, I urge you to do so immediately. It seems a bit slow at first, but gets going rapidly. Down near the end, a whole lot of things start snapping into focus.

The key revelation came when I encountered Gutmann’s contention that DRM was not being added into Vista due to prompting from Hollywood, but more likely in spite of it.

Suddenly the corporate psychology made sense. It all has to do with the end of the Bill Gates Microsoft, and the start of the new Steve Ballmer Microsoft. See, Bean-counter Ballmer sees no way of ensuring a long-term revenue stream for Microsoft other than literally taking over the content-distribution business. So he’s doing exactly what everyone always accused Microsoft of doing: copying Apple. In this case, the magic formula iTunes+iPod=lock-in. I think Jobs originally did adopt DRM as a way to appease the music industry and allow him to sell little music players. But for Ballmer, it looked like the goose that would keep on laying golden eggs forever.

Once you accept this view, everything makes sense. Why isn’t Vista better? I can just hear Ballmer screaming: “I don’t CARE! Just make the f*cking thing LOOK good!!” But then, why is Office 2007 getting good reviews? Because that’s part of the content that Microsoft wants to sell (as a service, naturally). Vista is merely the distribution system; it’s only purpose is to take control of the hardware. It only has to look good enough to roll out via existing OEM agreements.

And why the big move with Games for Windows? Because they’re planning to turn Windows into the Xbox. I figure it will be about six months after Vista achieves market dominance that they’ll start charging game developers a royalty, the way they do on the consoles. (It’ll initially be some sort of surcharge: a fee for being included in the new Games Explorer, or the Live online service.)

Even the Zune suddenly makes sense. It’s not an aberration… it’s the core strategy.

The only fly in Ballmer’s ointment is that DRM doesn’t actually work. I think he’s probably hoping no one will notice, giving Microsoft time to gain DMCA-validated control of the distribution pipeline. After that, it won’t matter.

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