Thursday, September 11, 2003

Microsoft, file formats, and information rights management ...

BBC NEWS | Document controls vs net liberties
It is not too late for government action. There is no realistic prospect that the US administration will do anything which might upset or oppose Microsoft, but here in Europe we have a more robust attitude to the company and its activities.

If Microsoft is going to roll out digital rights management in software that will be used by many European companies, surely the European Commission or our MEPs should be taking an interest - before we find that we have given up any possibility of asserting proper democratic control over this important technology?

The author of this BBC article is complaining about Microsoft's "information Rights Management", a system that restricts access to Microsoft Office documents. IRM will sell very well in corporate settings.

Microsoft build their empire in several ways, many of them very shady. Their use of file format lock-in, however, was quite above board. APIs are nowhere near as important as file formats, and not nearly as effective a tool as file formats for locking in customers (data lock I call it). There's no mystery to this; I hope most corporate customers undersood the implications. Unfortunately it appears many experts didn't undersand this; despite my faint pleas the FTC never seriously considered mandating that Microsoft open their file formats.

Maybe the EU will have more luck, but I doubt it. At this point I usually say, "If you don't like it, buy a Mac" -- but at the moment there's NO acceptable OS X word processor other than Microsoft OS X Word! (BTW, I suspect "IRM" will not work on a Mac.)

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