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December 27, 2006

Grumbling towards Vista

Posted by David Hunter at 9:18 PM ET.

While Microsoft is counting down to the big Vista consumer launchfest on January 29 there’s a certain amount of background grumbling going on:

Most alarming is Peter Gutmann’s takedown of Vista’s content protection overhead which has some truly amazing properties:

Vista requires that any interface that provides high-quality output degrade the signal quality that passes through it if premium content is present. This is done through a “constrictor” that downgrades the signal to a much lower-quality one, then up- scales it again back to the original spec, but with a significant loss in quality. So if you’re using an expensive new LCD display fed from a high- quality DVI signal on your video card and there’s protected content present, the picture you’re going to see will be, as the spec puts it, “slightly fuzzy”, a bit like a 10-year-old CRT monitor that you picked up for $2 at a yard sale [Note E].

The same deliberate degrading of playback quality applies to audio, with the audio being downgraded to sound (from the spec) “fuzzy with less detail” [Note F].

Amusingly, the Vista content protection docs say that it’ll be left to graphics chip manufacturers to differentiate their product based on (deliberately degraded) video quality. This seems a bit like breaking the legs of Olympic athletes and then rating them based on how fast they can hobble on crutches.

That’s just a start – there’s much more on the various hardware and software content protection taxes built into Vista PCs by following the link. It truly makes one wonder what one has to do to get a PC that hasn’t been designed to appease the paranoia of the movie studios and record companies.

While we’re talking hardware, over at WindowsITPro (subscription required), Mark Minasi has a complaint about Vista’s fancy Aero Glass user interface:

But after I’d run Aero Glass for a few days, it dawned on me that the interface was more than just silly; it was bad for my PC. My Ferrari is equipped with a 2GHz Turion processor, which AMD rates to run at–believe it or not–up to 95 degrees Celsius. But most of the time, it ticks along in the high 50s or mid-60s. (I use the free utility Speedfan to monitor its temperature.) When running Vista with Aero Glass, however, my system immediately cranked itself up to 91 degrees C … and stayed there. My response? Simple: I shifted Vista over to its excellent and flexible vanilla SVGA driver. The Ferrari idled back into the 50s and my blood pressure abated.

As hinted at above, Minasi also has some conceptual complaints about Aero as well.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning again that while Vista may be available to volume purchase customers, there’s still a delay for software vendors (including Microsoft) to support it and hardware vendors to provide suitable drivers and that is necessarily slowing down uptake by businesses. Robert McMillan and Elizabeth Montalbano at InfoWorld summarize the state of play and point out that Microsoft isn’t even pushing out to Vista one of the IE7 patches they released last Patch Tuesday:

Microsoft won’t say why it is holding off on some Vista patches even though the product is commercially available for business customers, but Russ Cooper, a senior information security analyst at Cybertrust, has a theory.

“I say Microsoft never intended anybody to run Vista prior to January,” he said. “What works on Vista, beyond Office 2007?” he asked. “I’m going to Vista … when my VPN supplier tells me that they have drivers that work, and when my anti-virus vendor tells me that they have non-beta versions that work.”

Without completely disinterring the dead horse of Vista upgrades for another flogging, my view is still that the upgrades will be few and far between except for enthusiasts and the press. Vista adoption will be driven by sales of new systems which in developed nations are determined by PC retirement and replacement. Larger businesses (who have a choice as to whether XP or Vista goes on their new systems) will lag consumers until all their compatibility ducks are in line. Why wouldn’t they?

Filed under DRM, Digital Media, Microsoft, OS - Client, Technologies, Windows Vista

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