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Leading items and editorials

IDC on the future of multiuser systems. IDC has announced a report describing its view of the future in the "multiuser system" market. The company expects quite a bit of growth in this arena, with the market being worth $34.6 billion by 2004. Forecasts have been provided for individual operating systems as well:

System1999 revenue
2004 revenue
Windows NT$4.7$12.8

If reality comes close to matching these figures, there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn here.

Unix systems (which Unix was not specified in the release) are expected to hold almost half of the multiuser system market in 2004. Market share will drop, but revenues will increase as the whole pie gets bigger. In other words, proprietary Unix will be feeling the pressure, but the rumors of its death are still somewhat premature.

The Linux growth rate will continue to be phenomenal. Of course, we didn't need IDC to tell us that, but it's nice to see anyway.

Windows NT, it is said, will grow twice as much as Linux in absolute dollars (though you get a different story if you look at percentages). It will bring in three times as much revenue as Linux in 2004. It's worth pointing out one thing here, though: the revenue from an average Linux deployment is a fraction of that from a Windows deployment. One Linux CD, perhaps not even purchased, can power many computers. Thus, we conclude that Windows may bring in more money, but far more Linux systems will be deployed.

Finally, $4.1 billion is a reasonable chunk of change - and it only represents one segment of the operating systems market, and only in the United States. It may be a bit of a lean time for Linux companies at the moment, but people will be making money - serious money - with free software before too long.

Perhaps we didn't need IDC to tell us that either. But it's still nice to hear.

SDMI brings out the threats. Two very different approaches to the protection of audio data (i.e. music) and its creators have come out recently. They are worth a look.

Remember the SDMI challenge? The Secure Digital Music Initiative seeks to defeat copying of digital audio through the use of a number of watermarking technologies. SDMI issued a public challenge last year, offering prizes for those who could crack their technologies - as long as the victorious parties kept their findings secret. A number of people called for a boycott of this challenge, thinking that SDMI was really just trying to find obvious problems before deploying an expensive new system.

A group lead by professor Edward Felten at Princeton succeeded in a number of attacks against SDMI, but then chose not to claim the prize; instead, they decided to release their findings publicly. Not surprisingly, the SDMI crowd is not much pleased; thus this letter sent to Professor Felten by Matthew Oppenheim, Secretary of the SDMI Foundation:

Unfortunately, the disclosure that you are contemplating could result in significantly broader consequences and could directly lead to the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. Such disclosure is not authorized in the Agreement, would constitute a violation of the Agreement and would subject your research team to enforcement actions under the DMCA and possibly other federal laws.

Here, "the Agreement," is one of the click-through variety that accompanied the challenge.

Even the DVDCCA, in its challenge against the DeCSS code, has not tried to go this far. The DVD people have acknowledged that a textual description of the DVD content scrambling system is protected speech, and its distribution can not be restricted. The DVDCCA has limited its efforts to stamping out the code - an effort which gets going again next week. There is no "DeSDMI" code in circulation, and no immediate threat to SDMI-protected music. But the SDMI people aren't waiting for that to happen; they are out to shut down the distribution of information at a much more basic level. They will run into some interesting first amendment issues if they continue to pursue this case.

All this is happening, of course, in an attempt to protect technology which is already in commercial use. Rather than admit that they adopted a worthless protection scheme, they are trying to sweep the issue under the rug with legal threats. This, of course, will prove difficult to do, especially since Professor Felten and company have already published a paper describing how they attacked SDMI. Their conclusions are worth reading:

Certainly, the technical details of any scheme will become known publicly through reverse engineering. Using the techniques we have presented here, we believe no public watermark-based scheme intended to thwart copying will succeed. Other techniques may or may not be strong against attacks. For example, the encryption used to protect consumer DVDs was easily defeated. Ultimately, if it is possible for a consumer to hear or see protected content, then it will be technically possible for the consumer to copy that content.

The SDMI is fighting a losing battle. Unfortunately, it is still a battle, and a great deal of damage could be done before it is finished.

The EFF Open Audio License. So maybe digital watermarking and other copy protection schemes are a lost cause. And maybe the content industries will eventually wake up to the fact that treating their customers as if they were criminals is not the best marketing tactic. How, then, can a sustainable industry be built that better fits reality?

The software industry is ahead of music in this regard. Copy protection schemes were tried in the 1980's, with no more success than audio and video is seeing now. Much of the industry has moved on to hardcore legal bullying techniques; it still treats its customers like criminals. But proprietary software is increasingly threatened by, of course, free software. Free software licenses recognize that copying will happen, and that the users of software deserve a little more respect.

How a sustainable free software industry will look is still unclear - many companies trying to work in this area are having difficulties now. But it is reasonably evident that, when the intellectual property itself is not making money, companies need to look to performance for their revenues. Digital Creations founder Paul Everitt once justified the open-sourcing of Zope by saying (in paraphrase) "the ability to create Zope is far more valuable than Zope itself." Having shown how it can perform, Digital Creations is making money by applying its abilities to the needs of its clients.

Can this model work in the audio world? Consider, for a moment, the Grateful Dead. The Dead placed its live performances under an informal open license - its customers were empowered to tape Dead shows and make copies for their friends. One of the results is that the Dead was one of the top-grossing concert bands for decades. It worked for them, and for a number of other groups that have followed the same model.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just released version 1.0 of the EFF Open Audio License, which may well form the basis of a performance-based audio business model. This license looks very much like the GPL: unlimited copying, modification, and distribution are allowed, but you can not restrict the rights of others to further redistribute the result. There is an attribution requirement as well. The EFF has clearly taken a cue from the free software world:

As in the software communities, this license is intended to help foster a community of creators and performers who are free to share and build on each others' work while freeing their audience to share works that they enjoy with others, all for the purpose of creating a rich and vibrant public commons.

The presence of a new license does not, in itself, create a new music industry. It remains to be seen what level of interest this license will find in the music industry. It is true, though, that a great many musicians are not particularly happy with the current arrangement; things could change faster than many of us would expect.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Pre-release advisories, OpenSSL update, new vulnerabilities in KFM, NEdit, SAFT/sendfile, and innfeed.
  • Kernel: Security modules; block drivers and plugging; non-GPL firmware in the kernel; Eric in KernelLand.
  • Distributions: Linux-Mandrake 8.0, FreeBSD 4.3, ASPLinux 7.1, Think Blue Linux for the 64-bit Zseries, RTLinux goes BSD.
  • On the Desktop: A first look at Ximian GNOME, KDE 2.2Alpha1, and KDE/GNOME put Linux on the desktop...almost.
  • Development: DirectFB - abstracting the Linux framebuffer for embedded devices, interview with the Simputer team and biology and open source.
  • Commerce: IBM: New AIX and Informix acquisition; Layoffs at Caldera.
  • History: Three years ago - proposed changes to the Uniform Commercial Code; Two years ago - gcc and egcs projects merge.
  • Letters: Italian web site registration; social research with Google; Bonobos are not unique.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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April 26, 2001


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