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Sunday, July 2nd, 2006

Update or Die

Unnecessary software updates are bad. If it’s not a security fix, leave it for the next major release. But aside from feature bloat, the Powers That Be have been steadily incorporating such nasties as DRM into “our” computers (see “Who Owns Your Computer“) through the update process, and have realized that such methods give the potential to exert an unprecedented level of control over all our personal information, which is steadily approaching greater significance than our physical selves.

I’ve brooded over whether I’ve sounded too strident as anti-Microsoft before, but no longer. Thanks to Bruce Schneier for pointing me to Ed Bott’s chillingly understated concern that MS is incorporating a “kill switch” – an antipiracy tool designed to stop Windows from running if you don’t install every update that they deem necessary – meaning, those petty security fixes aside, Microsoft’s more-powerful antipiracy tools. Ed quotes some MS reps averring that the antipiracy tool will become mandatory, and updates his post with MS’s later PR denial of their program as unable to “turn off your computer.”

Microsoft is Ed’s beat, and it was clear to me from reading the article that he’s become jaded to the horrors that must be going on there on a daily basis. A comment in and of itself.

Much earlier today, I replaced the processor and motherboard on my primary home XP Pro box, and with much trepidation. I wasn’t afraid of messing it up; I was afraid of Microsoft shutting down my operating system. Sure enough, when I rebooted with my OEM cd in the drive and repaired the install, I was bombarded with alarms that I needed to reauthorize. Pity that one of the problems with the repair that I was having was with my wireless card – my only link to the Internet. (The driver disk for that was in the other dvd drive.) After multiple installs/uninstalls and reboots, and getting continuously harassed, starting with two separate pop ups before even logging on, I finally called a halt to my attempts to get Windows to see the card, and called the phone line for reauthorization. That turned out to be an unnecessarily long delay – my whole “conversation” was with a computer generated voice, and I had to report a 60-some digit code number using voice recognition. Anyone ever heard of using the touch-tone pad?

Oh-oh. I can see myself getting into a full-blown rant here, so I’ll try to cut it short, at the risk of losing out on getting on the record about the doom I see coming.

This is really, really bad for Microsoft customers; meaning, potentially, the vast majority of the world. To try and recoup the billions of dollars they’re losing to piracy, they’re willing to enslave the source of the trillions they’re getting or going to be getting from the rest of us, and they’re in principle aligned with more than a few major corporations that want to make sure that they’re getting their billions and trillions from us, too, and could make a few more bucks selling the technology to them. And so far, everything’s going their way.

The only bright side to this, putting aside <sarcasm> my favorite IT professional’s retort to my concern about MS dependency – “their stuff just works!” </sarcasm> – is that it is so brazen that there might actually be a row in the technical press about it, and maybe enough to translate into some significance in the mainstream press. People might realize that they’re giving up all their choice (and therefore their freedom) to the people that make the software that runs their lives. They might start migrating towards, dare I say it? open source. And if the general populace really puts some thought into it, maybe they’ll start questioning the entire legal construct of licensing that gives software and entertainment companies this sort of power.

Could you imagine it? Scared politicians, shaken by the complaints of the the voting faithful that if they pay for something, they own it, passing laws that prohibit the retention of ownership by software companies, and stripping the whole licensing construct down to conditions on resale? Would you be willing to give up tech support for a product that works, all the time and every time, in the first place? (I’m sure I’m missing more than a few implications on the legal and economics side of this issue, and alternatives that make more sense under by the traditional understanding of property / means of production / ownership / compensation aspect. Let me just posit that licensing a commodity, or the means to produce other commodities, seems to distinguish the dividing line between the Industrial Age and the Technology Age. But what do I know – this stuff is only the roots of paltry concepts such as capitalism, socialism, and communism – and what affect do they have on our daily lives?)

Yeah, imagine it. Just like John Lennon dared to do. Fat lot of good it did him. So I’m left with my original assertion – DOOM! Hey, it wasn’t so bad for Dark Ages serfs, right?

P.S. I saw the Windows Genuine Advantage update, because I review my updates before installing them, and I declined to install it. Later, out of conditional obedience, I went back to the WindowsUpdate site and tried to find it again, listed with other suggested updates that I had asked not be installed, and couldn’t even find that list any more. My guess is that it got installed anyway using Automatic Updates.

P.P.S. I didn’t seem to do a very good job avoiding a rant, eh? You don’t know the half of it.

Posted by Greg in Politics, Society, Software

1 Comment »

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 2nd, 2006 at 00:16 PST and is filed under Politics, Society, Software. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Update or Die”

  1. Ramblings » Blog Archive » My New Computer - Chock Full with Big-Brotherware says:

    […] Now I have no clue what the WMI thought I was doing that merited a call home on a Sunday afternoon – I deleted the wbem logs after they showed up in SpyBot. Hell, I had never heard of WMI, but its description – “a common interface and object model to access management information about operating system, devices, applications and services” – and it’s deployability – through scripted events, or by directly interrogating the client machine remotely – is just chilling to me. I mean, what do they need to know so bad? I see in my router logs that the computer contacted my local office server through ports 2967 and 38293, and then it LDAP’ed every server in the network. Was it squealing on me because I didn’t like the Group Policy and gave myself an extra ten seconds of reaction time after my screen saver kicks in to avoid having to retype in my password? No, I suspect it was just a pervasive climate of constant monitoring. I don’t know what they can do with all those reports – surely there isn’t someone sitting around scanning for the yahoo who thought that he really needed that emoticon toolbar that came packaged with VX2. But I’m supposed to write up a request to justify installing say, the Gimp, on my computer. Why, you ask? Because it’s free, and I can use it! And it’s open source and clean, and it isn’t going to connect to some media server whenever I open it it up, checking for “updates” (see my Update or Die semi-rant), but mostly to download advertising to my desktop. […]