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Tuesday August 2, 2005 2:45 pm

Why Trustworthy Computing Is A Bad Idea

A number of sites have picked up the story that Intel Developer kits from Apple include TCPA/TPM DRM in the Kernel. TCPA/TPM DRM is a technical term for a Trustworthy Computing solution that limits what fair use consumers can use with the media they own. Basically it lets an application control what other applications or pieces of hardware can access it’s files. For instance a file created in Quicktime could be signed with a quicktime flag meaning no 3rd party applications or other users could view that file. There has been no word on how Apple is going to implement TCPA/TPM DRM yet, but conceivably they could use it to say that no non-DRM’ed pieces of media could be played on a machine making the assumption that if a file does not include DRM then it must be pirated. TCPA/TPM DRM also features the ability to create a secure encrypted channel between a graphics card and a monitor that supports TCPA - this unfortunately not only would help “prevent” piracy by capturing the live stream from the computer to the monitor (something not really done in practice anyway) but would force you to buy a TCPA compliant monitor.

Of course Windows Vista will have TCPA/TPM DRM built in as well - it’s one of Microsoft’s big selling points. I’m not sure how they are spinning it as a benefit to consumers as this does nothing but hurt innocent users wishing to exercise fair use of their content - pirates will always find a method to getting around DRM solutions.  TCPA is a technology that only hinders consumers, and benefits no-one but the MPAA, RIAA, and other large greedy organizations that don’t trust their paying customers. With both Apple and Microsoft playing into the media organizations wishes for TCPA to be widely adopted then the consumer loses choice, freedom, and the ability to exercise fair use of the media they both own and enjoy. Check out a possible solution and more information about TCPA after the jump.

Luckily Apple customers will have a choice of sorts - unlike Windows operating systems OS X’s kernel Darwin is an open source project - Darwin and the BSD subsystems source code is freely available under the Apple Public Source License (APSL), a license similar to GNU. APSL permits the modification and redistribution of the Darwin source code permitting that you follow certain restrictions. Under APSL you are permitted to modify the software without public distribution without limit.

It is therefor possible for future users of Intel based OS X users to make a choice - to have Trustworthy Computing features, or to run a script (which will be easy and legal to distribute) which will remove the TCPA features, recompile the Darwin Kernel locally, and then reboot to their newly TCPA-free kernel. Mind you - in doing this parts of the operating system that rely on TCPA would of course no long work - iTunes, and Quicktime for sure would break, as would any other media centric application that was being developed for the to rely on TCPA being present in the kernel. Mind you - giving up those applications would make OS X a less attractive option in the marketplace, you the consumer can at least rest easy knowing that you have that option.

At this point Apple is preventing this by requiring TCPA for use of the Aqua GUI - a feature to prevent OS X from being hacked into working on non-Apple sold hardware. This is one of the few legitimate uses of TCPA - Apple deciding that inferior hardware should not be able to run their product and thus possibly give the user a less stable experience. This does unfortunately mean that if a user chooses to remove TCPA from their kernel they would be unable to boot into GUI mode on their computer - Apple sold or otherwise, but they would have the option of using Darwin and the BSD subsystem as they please. Whereas this Gear Live editor disagrees strongly with Apples decision to restrict OS X to their hardware anyone can see the reasoning - when a company loses control of their hardware they lose control of their software and it’s ability to rely on specific hardware compatibilities or levels of quality control - think about how many people complain when Windows crashes frequently on the cheap hardware so present in the marketplace at the moment. In an ideal world anyone would be able to legally purchase their copy of OS X and run it on any machine they chose to accepting that if you ran it on non-Apple hardware that I was going to have the occasional system crash or incompatibility - then again this is not a perfect world and things like Trustworthy Computing really go a long way to remind us all of that.

Is Linux going to be the answer? Will Linux be the last bastion of DRM free computing where the user is in control of their system, and not a faceless corporation bent on increasing profits at the expense of the consumer? The only hope to avoid this eventuality is for the free media revolution that sites like the Pod Safe Music Network are starting and for this to spread to all forms of audio, video, and text content. In that media utopia the consumer and artists win, and DRM looses. Where do you, our readers put your proverbial dollar in this war on DRM?

Read More | Intel Developer kits with TCPA
Read More | Great Essay by Cory Doctorow on TCPA

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