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.....technobabble .....for the week of January 1, 2001

.....technobabble.....it's my unfortunate duty to inform you that your computing freedom is under assault, yet again. As I describe in detail here in my discussion of standards for IDE/ATA hard disks, the group in charge of those standards is the T13 Technical Committee of the National Committee for Information Technology (NCITS). It has come to my attention that NCITS and T13 are presently considering a proposal to include copy protection directly into industry-standard hard disk drives. This new technology is named Content Protection for Recordable Media, or CPRM. This plan calls for encryption to be included directly in the integrated controllers of hard disks, with data keyed to a unique serial number on the drive itself. You'd have to connect to a special server to get "permission" to do even simple operations like backing up programs or data you paid for, or restoring after a hard disk crash. The idea behind this proposal is, of course, not to protect the PC user, but to protect content providers from the PC user. Do I really even need to try to explain why this is a bad idea? Probably not, but I will anyway.....

.....let me begin by making clear my position on the rights of content producers: I am a content producer. Not only that, I am a producer who is constantly dealing not only with people who copy my work, but with plagiarists who take my material and attempt to portray it as their own for profit. I understand and support the need to protect those who create so that they can prosper and continue to create in the future. That said, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of protecting content. How much longer will customers tolerate having large companies assume that they are criminals? While it may seem hysterical to invoke Orwellian references here, how far away are we, when we have to fight against our hard disk drives to back them up? And the hard disk isn't the only place where this is happening. There are, apparently, proposals floating around to include one form or another of content protection in everything from BIOS chips to monitors. Is this your vision of the future of computing?

.....so what can you do about this? You can help fight it. For starters, read this FAQ article from The Register, which explains more about CPRM. Also read this article on the call for boycotting CPRM by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's John Gilmore. You can contact the T13 committee to (politely) express your disapproval of this project at their web site. You can also contact the 4C Entity, which is the group that owns CPRM (the fact that their group name sounds like some sort of alien being is not lost on this author.....)

.....and one final thing on this matter: I told you so. Well, not you, but the people who have been supporting sites and activities designed specifically and virtually exclusively to enable piracy. Sites like Napster, and the people who clone commercial software onto CD-R and sell it for 5 or 10 bucks, are helping push us along the path to where even honest people are continually treated like presumed thieves.....

.....alright, I think I have vented my spleen sufficiently on that topic; I just get annoyed at having large corporations trying to control my every move. Let's turn to some of the feedback from The PC Guide Reader Survey. I continue to receive lots of comments, and read every one; thanks for taking the time. A number of people have commented that some areas of the site are quite out of date. This is true, and something that causes me considerable grief, as I would very much like to see the site always up to date. There are a number of reasons why I have not yet been able to achieve this goal. One is simply that the site is so large that it takes more time than one person can devote to updating the content: I am now approaching 3,000 content pages. I also need to add new pages to grow the site, on a regular basis, to ensure its continued viability. Compounding all of this is the fact that technology changes rapidly, and that I didn't keep current with the latest changes during 1998 and 1999, which put me "in the hole", so to speak. Note that I didn't write all this to make excuses, just to help you understand that I don't intend to rest on my laurels; I am just facing a very large task. But face it I do, and I am continuing to work to correct the situation, even though it will take some time. In 2001 I plan to address areas where updates are sorely needed, especially in the area of processors.....

....."war..... (huh) what is it good for?" Not "absolutely nothing", if you are a PC buyer, according to many analysts, who expect early 2001 to see a bonanza of price-cutting on the part of struggling hardware vendors. Read this ZDNet article for more on what may be ahead.....

.....as I write this issue of .....technobabble, we close what has been a very active and certainly interesting year, not only in the world of technology, but in the world at large. You may find this PC World article, called 2000: A Year in Review, an interesting read.....

.....well, that's a wrap for this week. Did this column make you want to sing with joy, or wretch in pain? Give me your feedback, please!


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