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Windows Vista: potential negative impact on nanotechnology

John Walker brings to our attention an apparently distressing set of concerns regarding the new version of Windows, known as Vista, written up by Peter Gutman as A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. Excerpts:

The only way to protect the HFS [Hardware Functionality Scan] process therefore is to not release any technical details on the device beyond a minimum required for web site reviews and comparison with other products.

This potential “closing” of the PC’s historically open platform is an extremely worrying trend. A quarter of a century ago, IBM made the momentous decision to make their PC an open platform by publishing complete hardware details and allowing anyone to compete on the open market. Many small companies, the traditional garage startup, got their start through this. This openness is what created the PC industry, and the reason why most homes (rather than just a few offices, as had been the case until then) have one or more PCs sitting in a corner somewhere. This seems to be a return to the bad old days of 25 years ago when only privileged insiders were able to participate…

Overall, Vista’s content-protection functionality seems like an astonishingly short-sighted piece of engineering, concentrating entirely on content protection with no consideration given to the enormous repercussions of the measures employed…

As a user, there is simply no escape. Whether you use Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 95, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, Solaris (on x86), or almost any other OS, Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems.

So this is very bad, but what does it have to do with nanotech?

As nano continues to progress from materials to devices to complex nanosystems, it will increasingly require both design and, eventually, operation via computers. If this article is correct, we’ve just made a big step backwards in the reliability of both today’s and tomorrow’s computers, thanks to Microsoft and its content protection scheme. This will decrease nanosafety in the long run. If anyone has any suggestions on what to do about this, Foresight would like to hear them. —Christine

6 Responses to “Windows Vista: potential negative impact on nanotechnology”

  1. Leigh Mortensen Says:

    one word: “nanobuntu”

  2. Chris Says:

    Simple support open-source projects only such as linux and provide no and i mean no support for windows no drivers or anything… Intel and all of you working at nanotechnology would be setting an example for companies everywhere… It would certainly shake things up and other comapnies would follow Intel they are looking for those who would take a shot in the dark on Linux… Thus after 25 years making the pc completely open as it should be… I would buy a Linux only chipset and I know thousands of other opensource enthusiasts who would… Yes you would screw Aunt Tilly out of the utter speed but she wouldnt want it anyhow… I say take a chance and jump in faith on Jesus above… You wont be sorry… My two cents for what they are worth…

  3. anon Says:

    TinyOS is probably more relevant to nanotech.

    WinModems or high end graphics adapters probably illustrate the most likely effect: a business induces other businesses to use its proprietary specification, based in large part on its predominance in the market, or based on particular tech advantages. Other businesses must chose to follow their competitors or settle for niche markets–the point is most decided they’d do better for themselves by collaborating with the scheme. This limits availability of cheap hardware, or compatibility of high end hardware for other OSs, but life goes on. By now, ethernet has almost eliminated WinModems. Note that this situation arose on to of open standards like V90 and SVGA and that there were never any huge barriers to anyone wanting to manufacture devices implementing them. Most likely, nanotech will make many things much cheaper, even if it makes a few companies obscenely rich.

    Secrecy is one way of protecting technology or content, but there are others. If this really got implemented, professional pirates will likely get around this content protection in no time, but it might impede Joe Consumer for a while–i.e. recreational shoplifting will be curbed but organized crime will likely profit all the more for that very reason. The point is it won’t accomplish what it’s promising for content creators very well for very long. As for actual security, all of the stuff that a user wants secured is unprotected by HDCP; malware might not be any more able to pirate your music than you are but it will still be able to do everything you can with your machine.

    In all likelihood, the market will balk at hardware that won’t run anything but Vista; machines might have a some Vista-only features, but considering that servers represent a major market and neither need nor would tolerate HDCP but do like cheap, flexible hardware and open source software, these aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.

  4. Alex Says:

    http://www.opencores.org/ contains a large assortment of designs for CPUs. Some of these, such as the OpenRISC 1200, are capable of running Linux. The site also contains designs for other devices, such as Ethernet controllers, VGA monitor drivers, and more. Currently, these can be implemented in FPGAs (or HP’s new FPNIs) or in ASICs if you can afford to mass-produce them. With molecular manufacturing, these designs (along with a compiler that targets molecular circuits rather than FPGAs) will enable us to manufacture our own computers according to open-source designs instead of settling for whatever Microsoft forces on PC component and system manufacturers. With open-source hardware will come the same explosion of reliable, innovative systems as has happened in software.

  5. Lex Spoon Says:

    Since Microsoft is a private company, nobody is forced to use their software. You can already use OS/X, which costs more but which is correspondingly nicer. Technical users, such as the people making new nanotech, can use Linux for free.

    There is a related issue to worry about, however: what happens if the *government* starts putting Vista-like requirements on our machines? The Inducing Infringement Act makes a step in this direction, because a non-complaint machine could be considered an inducement to infringe. The open document initiative of Massachussetts is a step in the opposite direction, because it suggests that any software is usable so long as it interacts properly in public. Overall, we must be vigilant to maintain the freedom we have over our personal and professional machines.

  6. Martin G. Smith Says:

    The ‘Little’ Computer Company from Redmond is being even more insidious than it would first appear, try downloading Mozilla Firefox on a machine running Vista. Be prepared to reinstall the system afterward. We are a Unix/Linux/OS operation and have no intention of ever changing.

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