Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

The DRM issue and government intervention

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Thu, Dec 7, 2006 at 17:59 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:14 IST)

It's interesting to see how the recent debate on DRM and Trusted Computing is going. I'm particularly alarmed by the implications of this technology and its potential to arm-twist consumers tying them down effectively to using a particular software on a particular media. No matter how many people put forth positive arguments to support this technology, I have an instinctive feeling against it. It's all very well to separate the technology from its application, but for all practical purposes, I see no difference.

The application of this technology puts enormous clout in the hands of the already powerful global IT and media giants and restricts the end customer even further while offering a few lame sweeteners (security, reliability and trust, huh) to make it palatable. How they use that clout is a completely different story, but it's amazing how many people are willing to trust corporate entities that have a history of monopolistic tendencies and unfair (and often illegal) business practices to gain market share.

The point of this post however, is not to argue for or against the technology, but merely to show why active (and not passive) opposition is necessary if we need to prevent it from being adopted as a standard in software, hardware and digital media products. And more specifically, why we need our elected representatives in government to stand up for consumer rights and protection.

Most people tend to argue in this manner
If you don't like DRM, just don't buy products which have DRM in them. The technology is useful and governments should not interfere/put a blanket ban on its use. Also DRM doesn't affect FOSS, so why should I care?
The assertion, in effect calls for passive resistance by the "market." Unfortunately, I see some big flaws in the above argument.
  1. Implied in the argument is the fact that if we (the small group of enlightened and empowered users) boycott those products, that'll convince the powerful global multinationals that the technology is not marketable and it'll be a failure. Unfortunately, it's a proven fact that the majority of software and hardware multinationals do not give a damn (to put it mildly) about the "enlightened" minority. Sure, consumer awareness is growing, but it's still nowhere near large enough to cause any major headaches for them.
  2. The second assumption is that the FOSS community will not be affected by the technology. I seriously doubt this but even otherwise, is this any reason not to be worried about DRM? What about the rest of the world? We certainly do not live in a vaccuum and whether we like it or not, anything that Microsoft, AMD, Intel or Sony does affects us directly or indirectly.
  3. Lastly, even if we, as individuals, are in a position to successfully boycott DRM-infected products, how practical would it be in the long run? Assuming a market where 80-90% of the products are DRM-enabled, how much choice do we have as consumers? And if the major multinational corporations do adopt DRM and Trusted Computing in a big way how can customers keep avoiding it forever?
In order to overcome the first obstacle, we need to educate and inform the general public about the perils of Trusted Computing. I don't think we'll have much trouble about this one though as awareness is already spreading. The second point is implicitly tied with the first point. As far as this issue is concerned, I doubt whether the voice of any single group of consumers will make a big impact. It's necessary for us to have a (huge) collective voice to seriously trouble the likes of Microsoft and Sony.

The third point is the clincher though. Going by the current trend, it's becoming increasingly clear that the major hardware and software companies will adopt DRM and Trusted Computing in some form or the other. Even if the whole of the consumer world protests against these technologies, sooner or later the world will be forced to use and adopt them. If you're not convinced, then consider how Microsoft has successfully used this tactic to keep their customers over the years -- by forcing them into the vicious upgrade cycle and tying them down to Microsoft-specific technology. The same tactic will be used in this instance too. They might not be too open and explicit about it and will try and hide it using every kind of marketing jargon, but the result will be the same. If the technology is adopted, they know that there will be a lot of initial resistance, but they're equally confident that the resistance can be broken down by using marketing techniques and unfair business practices.

The ultimate question here is this: is the market strong enough and competitive enough to resist restrictive technologies like DRM and trusted computing when implemented by powerful vested interests? Should we entirely rely on market forces to reject anti-competitive and restrictive technologies? Whatever be the answer to that, I think the key is that we need government support and intervention in the issue no matter which part of the world we live in. The likes of Microsoft and Sony are not just companies. They're powerful corporate empires and normal market forces do not affect them so much in the short term -- particularly when they are in a position to form cartels and alliances. An outright ban on TC/DRM may be the last step in that intervention, but whatever be the case, every government needs to step forward and keep the technology and its use under heavy control.

The point here is that we need one empire to balance the other. Only governments have that power. And that's why I fully support government controls to prevent the rampant abuse of this technology. Mere passive resistance from end customers will only delay the inevitable -- it will not prevent it.
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Interesting article on customer service

Filed under: Bits and Bytes by Hari
Posted on Wed, Dec 6, 2006 at 12:34 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:48 IST)

I'm starting a new feature on this blog -- I'll be linking some interesting articles I find on the web here and provide a bit of commentary on it. I'm generally not a big fan of re-blogging, but it does have its uses. I'd also like some feedback on this kind of blogging from my regular readers.

However, here's my first interesting link: I found this when I was doing a bit of research on the subject of Services Marketing. It's a pretty interesting articles that debunks the myth of the phrase "The Customer is Always Right" and the way it's interpreted by big businesses.

Top 5 reasons why "The Customer is Always Right" is wrong

I must say I agree entirely with the article. Too often, this phrase is interpreted in an absolute sense without a proper context. In my belief the phrase always stood for "The Market is Always Right" and means: whatever product or service the customer chooses (within reason) is the right one. In other words, the customer chooses the product or service he/she wants and not the other way round. It does not mean that the customer has the right to be abusive, disruptive, threatening or generally obnoxious towards employees of service organizations.

Having said that, I believe that service providers who try to cut corners in quality and employ poorly trained or equipped people to serve customers deserve what they get. We all know how much a customer has to endure from poorly trained, clueless Call Centre employees. I believe in such cases, the business escapes its responsibility by putting unprofessional novices in the front-lines to take all the fire.

I hope you find it an interesting read as well.
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A Linux rant from a frustrated newbie

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted on Mon, Dec 4, 2006 at 21:14 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:01 IST)

Hi there,

I'm here only to express my opinion regarding Linux. I know that most of you will tell me to go back to Windows and ask me why I'm bothering to post this message. It's quite simple. I think that Linux has a long way to go before it can be considered a "serious" contender to Microsoft Windows. Unfortunately most users of Linux I've met seem to be blind to the simple fact that Windows is a much more user-friendly and works out of the box for almost every computer manufactured out there. There's a reason why Microsoft is #1 and I now understand why they charge money for their Operating System.

Let me explain. I started my journey with Linux four years ago. Every time I tried to install Linux on my machine, I ended up in frustration and failure. To be honest, I tried with different hardware every time as well. Slackware just wouldn't recognize my network card. Red Hat get giving my grub errors all the time and I was unable to boot to my Windows partition after a failed installation. I even tried SUSE and Debian. SUSE had the easiest installer, but it was so slow to boot up and run compared to Windows that I gave it up as a bad job. Also I couldn't get any of my audio files to play under SUSE. As for Debian, every time I ran the installer, I got a file-corrupted error and the installation aborted about halfway through. From time to time I kept trying to install Linux and I kept failing. And the worst part of it was the time I wasted in downloading and writing installations CDs! What a waste! Seriously folks, what are the Linux devs thinking? I'm an above-average IQ guy and I've worked for 10 years in the IT industry, but even I had a tough time figuring out what hda, hdb and hdc stood for. Why couldn't they stick to known standards like C:, D: and E: to represent disk drives. It would all be fine if the damn thing worked! BUT NO... it doesn't and that's the worst part about Linux -- all hype and no substance. And believe me, only I know how much I struggled through all this...

Trust me guys. I know what you'll say. I've really gone ahead and wasted plenty of weeks (maybe even months) on trying out Linux, but it seems that Linux just hates me. I'm always open to trying it out again, but to be frank, I don't really have the faith any more. It seems that Linux needs some kind of uber-geek to tame it. And being in the software industry for 10 years, even I couldn't make head or tail of it. I really don't want to use Windows any more since I am morally against Microsoft's business practices, but what are the Linux developers doing all these years? It seems that the interest in developing Linux into a true alternative to the monopoly that is Windows has waned over the years. The community seems more interested in aggressively asserting the superiority of their Operating System than providing real solutions to all of us.

So, go ahead and flame me all you want. But you know the truth and the truth hurts... I couldn't care less what you want to say about me, but so long as the community keeps up its uppish attitude, Linux is just going to remain a fringe system used by bespectacled, pale geeks in University laboratories.

(And no, before you ask, I didn't copy this from any Linux forum. :P )
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Professor Das

Filed under: Artwork/Portraits/Caricatures by Hari
Posted on Fri, Dec 1, 2006 at 18:26 IST (last updated: Fri, May 29, 2009 @ 21:24 IST)

My next cartoon character: Professor Das

Professor

Occupation: Professor of Mathematics
Appears on: Educational programmes on Television and UGC programmes
Favourite problem: Solving the square root of pi to the thousandth decimal place
Quote: "What is the integral of square root of sin theta? Come on, tell me... tell me... tell me..."
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wp_publisher: desktop posting tool for WordPress

Filed under: My software by Hari
Posted on Fri, Dec 1, 2006 at 13:08 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 23:01 IST)

I've written a Python GUI application to publish to a WordPress blog from the desktop. It has a simple interface and is not really a full "client" for WordPress. However, I think it would be useful to many people who simply want to post to their blog after composing their post offline (in a text file). It supports most of the post publishing options in WordPress including adding multiple categories and the option to turn off/on comments and pingbacks.

To run it, simply download the tar.gz file, extract it and run the wp_publisher.py program from the command line.

Download: wp_publisher.tar.gz (5.2 kB)

Dependencies: python, libglade, python-gtk, python-glade (GTK 2.0)

Screenshot: wp_publisher
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Test post

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Fri, Dec 1, 2006 at 10:03 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 15:29 IST)

This is a test post created using my new desktop WordPress posting tool, wp_publisher. If this works, you should see this message in the blog.

Update: Yay, it works
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