Piracy

A man, and it would have to be a man because women aren’t usually this stupid, invents the worlds most perfect gun in order to protect his property.  It is a weapon so advanced that it never misfires, it never jams, and it will always work regardless of the conditions and its level of maintenance.  One day, whilst cleaning it, he accidentally blows his head off.

Imagine if DRM had been invented in the sixteenth century.  If it had, then there is very little chance that we’d be enjoying the works of Shakespeare today.  We wouldn’t be able to – especially if the company which held the keys, the sixteenth century equivalent of Apple, Amazon or Microsoft, had since folded.  Some might argue that this is no bad thing.  After all, the real wonders of Rock’n’Roll were recorded in a pre-DRM era – and I doubt that future music historians will care all that much if the oeuvre of Lady Gaga sinks without trace into a digital morass.

If you want someone to be trustworthy, you need to trust them.  If you regard everyone as fundamentally untrustworthy then you shouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be just that. Many developers and artists understand this concept.  You buy content (software, music, video etc), you install it, and there are no checks to see if you acquired the content legitimately or not.  This freedom means that you can give your content to someone else, provided that you stop using it yourself.  That might not be strictly in the terms of the license, but the content provider doesn’t lose out and it generates good feeling.

Unfortunately, the situation with an increasing number of providers is slightly different.  Once you install the content on one machine you can’t install it on another machine.  So if you upgrade your machine you’re now left with bin-fodder and you need to buy the content all over again.  Fair?  Definitely not.  And the result is that there are a remarkable number of ingenious crackers breaking the DRM and uploading the resultant file.

It’s true that DRM free content is no less likely to end up on a torrent site than that of less enlightened providers.  On the other hand there’s very little advantage (other than the financial one) to gaining it in this manner – and several significant disadvantages, not least the lack of support.

Piracy of heavily DRM’d content is a different matter.  In this case you lose the support but, in addition to the financial incentive, you also gain the ability to use your content wherever you like, on whatever you like, without the need for an internet connection and without the risk that one day your content will cease to work altogether.  Put like that, Piracy may be a crime – but it’s a crime that you’d be daft not to indulge in.

The obsession with DRM can be seen as the last thrashings of a dying industry. I’m not saying that we’ll no longer listen to music, watch video, or play games  – just that we’ll get our entertainment from other, DRM free, sources in the future.  This has already happened with music (so, unfortunately, Lady Gaga might be with us forever after all) and DRM free music is now commonly available.  Video is still locked down, but at least the locked down files can be played offline – and DVDs (and now BluRay) can be copied without too much difficulty. Software is a trickier proposition, with DRM that either requires the CD to be inserted during game play (wrecking battery life on portables, and rendering gameplay all but impossible on a MacBook Air) or, worse, that requires a constant connection to the internet.

DRM won’t kill software, video or any other media, but it will kill any provider who burdens content with protection more strenuous than a serial number.  Treated as criminals in this manner, users will either download the unencumbered version from a filesharing site or run into the welcoming arms of Open Source.  Linux.  Open Office.  Tremulous.  Hedgewars.  All good quality, and all absolutely free.  And best of all, nobody gets their head blown off.

Wonderful AppleTV

With a son in the first few months of his life, the time that my wife and I spent going to the cinema has been sadly curtailed.  I don’t like renting DVDs, partly because I hate sitting through adverts for films have no intention of watching, and partly because I hate being told that Piracy Is A Crime.  Every. Bloody. Time.  A patronising message which is made more irritating by the fact that if I had pirated the damn film I wouldn’t have to watch the message or umpteen adverts.

So, at the risk of sounding like a cheap radio commercial, I was delighted to discover that rentals and purchases from the iTunes store are not only reasonably priced but also free from annoyance.  You pay.  You watch.  You aren’t forced to sit through crap.

Public Transport

Let’s get the positive stuff out of the way first. I like trains, provided that I can get a seat.  I especially like long train journeys in first class – I get a reasonable cup of tea, a fairly peaceful journey and I can read the paper.

I hate the underground.  It’s smelly, stifling and there’s nothing to look at except for the armpits of ones fellow travellers as they grasp the hand rails (there’s never room to sit).

I hate buses but, since I live beyond the reach of the underground, they’re a necessary nuisance.  I particularly dislike many of my fellow passengers and, in particular, the spineless wimps who put up with hooliganism meekly – or, worse yet, thank me when I don’t.

Strangely enough, I don’t particularly hate the inconsiderate ‘yoofs’ who do so much to ensure that bus rides are as unpleasant as possible.  I was yoofish once and, whilst I never graffitied or listened to my music at disturbing volumes (mainly because I didn’t have the means), I’m aware that I was probably quite unpleasant in my own way.

No, I hate the spineless wimps who won’t stand up for peace, quiet and good manners.  Their excuse is inevitably that they don’t want to get stabbed or happyslapped.  What?  And I do?  I’m hardly built like a boxer myself – I’m in no position to defend myself from a knife or, worse, a gun.  The difference is that I have a healthy sense of perspective and I realise that the chances of being attacked are tiny.  Let’s face it, if they weren’t then such attacks would cease to be newsworthy. The streets will, I promise you, be far safer when everybody firmly (but politely) learns to say ‘excuse me, but would you please stop doing that (whatever it is)’.  Trust me. It works. But if you see me doing it and you’re grateful, please don’t thank me. Just remember not to be so much of a coward yourself next time.

Most of all though, I hate Ken Livingstone for giving free travel to yoofs – come on.  Make them pay like everybody else, and put the extra revenue into paying conductors – life will be so much more pleasant for everyone who has to use public transport.

Dear Steve

You confess to having brainwashed your children. Nice.  It won’t work, of course.  Children are independent and they’ll do as they damn well please.  You can’t even stop them from doing something that might harm them later (like drugs for example), so banning them from using products and services (like the iPod and Google) which are way better than anything from Microsoft is somewhat risible.

Of course, whether or not brainwashing works, a better solution would be for Microsoft to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Apple and Google.  If Microsoft can make a better product than its competitors then its competitors will go out of business – after all, who would buy a product from a small company if the big one can do the job at least as well?  I’m not even thinking of search engines or music players any more.  I’m thinking of an operating system – Mac OS X (which you have doubtless also banned your children from using).

Windows is a leviathan.  It commands so much market share that anyone buying a computer would be foolish not to buy Windows – unless there was a competitor at least twice as good.  After all, you’d need a damn good reason to throw away compatibility with the world’s most used OS.  Windows has two such competitors.  My favourite is Mac OS X and its feature set goes way beyond Vista but without the precipitous hardware requirements.  Of course, Mac OS X requires you to have a computer made by Apple – but since you’ll probably need a new computer to run Vista anyway, it’s worth considering.

Some people claim that they don’t want to be locked in to a hardware manufacturer (as if being locked into an operating system is any better).  Okay, I can sort of understand that.  I run Ubuntu on my PC.  I find that it’s far more capable than Windows, more secure and (at least as far as I’m concerned) easier to use.  It looks nicer too, to my eyes, and it’ll run on virtually any computer.  It’s free too.

Some people will still object that they need to run Windows programs.  In most instances, of course, they don’t need to.  Open Office is Microsoft Office compatible (and free too), and there are many other applications that can be used in lieu of those written by Microsoft.  On those rare occasions that a Windows program is required, Crossover will run Windows programs natively on either Mac OS or Linux.

So come on Steve, give me one good reason why your kids – or anyone else for that matter – should use Microsoft products? Oh, and ‘because it’s your company’ isn’t a good enough reason!

Monopoly

Strange as it may seem, I think that Microsoft is being unfairly treated when it’s asked to unbundle parts of Windows in order to comply with European monopoly law.  How would we, as Mac users, feel if the next version of Mac OS X contained no compression software, no web browser, no DVD player or even Quicktime?

That isn’t to say that Microsoft shouldn’t be slapped down firmly for being monopolistic, but the E.U. lawyers should work out exactly why Windows has a monopoly.  It has a monopoly because important bundled applications or frameworks – like Windows Media Player, .Net etc. only work on Windows and on no other platform.  Similarly, the forthcoming Zune will work only with Windows computers.

iPod may currently be dominant, but it isn’t a monopoly because it will work just as well on Windows as it does on the Mac.  Quicktime works exactly the same on Windows as it does on the Mac – DRM and all. Mac OS isn’t a monopoly because, even though it only works on Apple hardware, it doesn’t lock the user into using a particular operating system to use the files it generates.

I sincerely hope that the E.U. spots Zune and forces Microsoft to make it work with the Mac – DRM and all, or forbids its sale.

The London Bombings

There isn’t much that can be said about the London bombings that hasn’t been said already. I do have a comment on the origins of these bombers, though. They were English nationals. I can understand (and please note that understanding is not the same as condoning) why people in Palestine and other middle eastern countries might indulge in hari-kari from time to time. Their lives are hard, and the West repeatedly shits on them from a great height. Continue reading “The London Bombings”