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Simon Says - Why Intel? Why Now?

by Jon Simon
June 22nd, 2005


The Macintosh Digital Hub strategy is still alive and kicking. In fact, I'd say it's all consuming. Apple hit a home run with iTunes and the iPod, gaining dominance over online distribution of music. Now the company is looking towards movies, the next step you might say, but it has a problem. Computers make Hollywood nervous, what with all those college kids copying them higgeldy piggeldy without a care for corporate coffers.

Which is why Apple needs to set Hollywood's minds at ease so that they will give Apple content to distribute. That's where TC, or Trusted Computing, comes into play.

TC is what politicians would call a "lock box" for digital content. It is a combination of hardware and software that allows you to not only confirm the identity of the computer remotely, but also whether or not that computer is running in a certain desired state. It can even let you control that computer.

In the real world, this could mean that, when you buy a song from iTunes, iTunes would communicate with your computer to make sure that it is in a secure mode where the digital content they send you cannot be copied. No hacked iTunes or other software that circumvented copy protection would be allowed. If you were running them, they would be detected and you would be unable to buy or access the song.

Should you later load up software or attach hardware that is not "trusted", all your digital media files would be locked up and inaccessible until you unloaded that software or removed the hardware. Every time you want to access any protected digital content on your computer, it would go through the same checks to make sure it was "safe" for the content to run. If the computer isn't safe, the software won't run.

Why would Apple do this? It makes it hard to pirate content. The encryption gets in the way. Also, they can detect and delete known pirated files off your machine.

It also lets the company get creative with products. Apple could rent you movies online that only play for three days. Later on, if you wanted to watch it again, you would have to re-rent it even though the file might still be on your hard drive. There are many articles on the marketing possibilities of DRM and I'm not going to get into them.

Why not IBM? Big Blue does have its own digital rights management system. However, IBM came a bit late to the game with it, it doesn't have the Hollywood support which TC has, and frankly, IBM hasn't been all that good at delivering on the hardware side. If Apple sticks with IBM, the company would get left in its competitors' digital media dust.

But wait, there's more! Apple is a hardware company. iTunes isn't the money maker, iPods are. One thing TC will let Apple do is lock the OS onto certain hardware. This will mean that, unless you buy an Apple machine, you won't be able to run OS X. Don't be surprised if you end up paying a nice large premium for a machine capable of running OS X.

I wouldn't worry too much though. Security on consumer devices has a long history of failure. From DVDs to the Xbox, well made security systems have fallen. I expect early versions of TC to fall as well, allowing you control of digital files you buy and freedom to modify your machine. Later versions, however, may actually succeed in putting all your digital media into a "lock box."

In the mean time, as security and privacy expert Richard Forno suggested, you might want to consider buying a G5 Power Mac. It may be the last Mac that lets you do what you want.

Jon Simon is a veteran writer in the world of technology, having contributed to Sharky Extreme and other tech publications.

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