|Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Content Reading/Intel and GNU/Linux
|INTEL IS ABOUT TO CUT Linux out of the legitimate content market, and
hand the keys to the future of digital media to Microsoft at your
expense. Don't like it? Tough, you are screwed. The vehicle to do this
is called East Fork, the upcoming and regrettable Intel digital media
'platform'. The funny part is that the scheme is already a failure, but
it will hurt you as it thrashes before it dies. Be afraid, be very
First, lets explore what East Fork (EF) is. It is basically a media
server PC on steroids with a lot of interesting software. The downside
is that it is aiming for you, not aimed at you. The first iteration, due
out in Q1 2006, is based on a Smithfield dual core Pentium 4 with the
Lakeport and ICH7-DH chipsets, a fairly plain combo. You also need a
S-ATA HD with NCQ, and Intel HD Audio, but you can supplement that with
anything else you need as long as it is on the board. You also need MS
Media Center Edition 2006 (MCE 2006).
This will be replaced shortly after launch with a version based on
Yonah, more like late Q1 2006, but since the Smithfield one slipped so
much, this one might be delayed as well. It replaces the chipsets with
Calistoga and ICH7-DHM, not a big change, and the rest remains the same.
How they are going to sell a 64 bit launch and a quarter later an
'upgrade' to a 32 bit version is beyond me, but it isn't my idea. The
replacement of the 130W Smithfield by the 31W Yonah won't cause many
loud complaints, and the exhaust temperature of your stereo cabinet
might go down a few orders of magnitude.
The concept is collectively called EF, and the one key to this all is
something called the EF platform driver. It does a bunch of neato
things, it will use all the horsepower the CPUs can throw at it, and a
lot more. The first thing is that it will transcode content on the fly,
and is officially stated as 'Transcodes content that's not supported by
Digital Media Adaptor into a supported format'. Sounds cool, except the,
and I mean the supported format right now is .WMV. It also can do the
same for bandwidth, basically it transrates on the fly. No abject evil
here, it is a good idea in every way.
Secure premium content muddle
The problem is something called the Secure Premium Content Module
(SPCM), and its reason for being is to decrypt MS DRM fast and
'securely'. It is an open question as to how this security benefits the
user though. Anything other than Microsoft DRM is listed as 'possible'
for SPCM, but as now, the list of additional supported DRM providers is
zero. The transcoding will basically add DRM to anything that touches
the box, preventing you from using any fair use rights, and preventing
legal sharing. This strategy worked well enough to turn the mighty Sony
into an also ran in the MP3 player market.
There are also a few more goodies. One is called Energy Lake, an
instant-on technology. It does what it says it does, press the button,
and the beast springs to life in short order, think more toward the
speed of a DVD player than a PC. This is a good thing for all involved,
and hopefully will spread farther than the EF platform.
Last up is the EF online zone, which is one of those portals where you
are a captive, and can 'freely choose' to spend your money in the ways
they want you to but only on the limited selections they offer. There
will be 'exclusive content' for those who appropriately tithe, think the
latest Brittney pablum for those with short attention spans. Don't
expect anything that you can't find on the web for less, you are captive
and you have large corporate profit margins to support.
I say captive because although it will support other shells that are not
MCE 2006, it will only support other shells, but not programs. This is
not the same as being open in any way shape or form, you are locked in,
period. That's not to say that there will not be choices. There have to
be at least two providers in each country where it launches to provide
the content, but the blessed ones are the only ones. Call me absurdly
cynical if you like, but I expect there is a lot of money changing hands
here, and it will come out of your pocket in the end.
With the Intel GMA950 GPU, it will decode up to 720p and 1080i, but no
guarantees on 1080p. If they allow you to use an Nvidia card, a 6600GT
with PureVideo and the right drivers should make 1080p a distinct
possibility. That should be 'good enough' for most uses.
In Q1 2006, East Fork will launch in seven countries, the US, Canada,
Germany, France, Japan, South Korea and the PRC. Notably absent is the
UK, but on the upside, it looks like their buses will be spared the
indignity of the ad campaign. At least the iPod ones don't look all that
This advertising campaign is going to be huge, about one third of a
billion US dollars. Remember the Centrino campaign? That is what you are
in for, an inferior product that sells you out for more money. There
will be EF devices, EF branded content and probably EF branded
contraceptives to use while watching EF branded porn.
Up the river without a paddle
So, that is what it is, how does it sell you up the river? The first
part is DRM. Any DRM on a machine is simply a sign of failure. It
signifies that the providers cannot, or will not provide you with a good
product at a fair price. People are inherently averse to getting
screwed, in the way that Intel is doing mind you, and if you try to
screw people, they will avoid you. If you offer them something they
actually want, they tend to readily open their wallets. This crushing
DRM that is being foisted upon you is the surest sign that you don't
want this product, and you will be paying too much for it. Don't like
that? Bought legislators are hard at work making sure you will go to
jail if you try to exercise your rights on the issue.
Remember there was a time when something called fair use existed?
Remember when you could rip a CD to your MP3 player to listen to in your
car, or while out biking? That was and is called fair use. Breaking down
the term, fair means equitable, and use means to use. Both are about to
be stripped from you, but you get to pay for the privilege.
Here's how it works. The record companies, and to a far lesser degree
the movie studios, are rapacious greedy bastards that have a failing
business model. No, really, look at the numbers, they are on a treadmill
where they need bigger and bigger hits to support the 90 plus per cent
of projects that don't make dollar one. Each time, they spend more and
more money making the latest plastic knuckle dragger seem cool enough so
you will part with your money.
It is getting harder and harder to do, mainly because quality is
declining so rapidly. So, rather than go for quality and content you
want to buy, they are trying to make it so you have to buy, and crying
to legislators that you are evil if you don't consume how they want,
when they want, in the ways that they want. Pay per play has these
Add in the fact that they completely missed the boat for digital media,
obstructed its growth at every possible turn, and sued their prime
consumers when they didn't flock to sup-par offerings at super-par
pricing, and you have a recipe for failure. This is exactly what the
record companies are doing, failing, and it is richly deserved. Some
adapted early, Go-Kart being a prime example, are doing the right thing
for the right reasons. The vast majority are not.
In their failing, they are passing laws left and right that make you a
criminal for doing things that you were entitled to do up until it did
not make several large corporations enough money. Don't like it? How
many Congressmen do you own?
Their excuse it that they won't enter a market without what they deem as
adequate protection. Silly me, it seems that they define adequate
protection as charging more for a download than a physical product that
has actual costs to produce, ship, stock and sell. It is a flat out
sham, and strangely, people are stupid enough to believe it, and buy the
fact that the poor record companies will lose their shirts if they so
much as dip a toe in the water without DRM. They can't come in without
you giving up your fair use rights.
That is a lie, they voluntarily left, and choose not to enter without
you kneeling before them and giving up your civil liberties. It would be
laughable if so many people didn't do just that. A good analogy was one
I used on a person giving a speech about DRM a few months ago. I said
imagine that during his speech, I walk up on stage with a baseball bat,
and for no reason, start hitting him. Then, out of the goodness of my
heart, I stop hitting him, does this suddenly make me a nice guy? The
record companies are hitting you by not supporting the current
prevailing formats, and are asking you to call them nice guys when they
stop hitting you. I hope you are not that stupid.
East Fork handles
Back to EF though, there are a lot of problems, and it mainly starts
with exclusive support for Microsoft DRM. There is no other, and as of
the last time I checked, there will not be. Intel refuse to comment on
unannounced products, but others have told me there is nothing but
If you look at the history of the public, lets call them sheeple, they
take what they are given, grin and bear it. Netscape, Real and others
have all fallen victim to the Microsoft bundling machine, and even if EF
has the option to include other forms, there will be none in the box to
What do you think content providers will encode in, Microsoft or some
other format that has a vastly higher probability of not being on the
box? By Intel selling out to MS for co-advertising dollars, they
basically hand all content over to MS controlled and MS licensed
schemes. Not a problem if you are willing to pay MS for the privilege of
using their codecs.
How about if you are using a non-MS platform? You can always pay
Microsoft for the privilege, and several Linux based devices do, but
they charge you for it. They also have handcuffs placed on them as to
what they can do after that. Forget 'free' as in beer, 'free' as in
freedom just went away with a whimper, not a bang. Also, if you think
Microsoft is cheap or altruistic, wait until they are a monopoly here
too. History is a great guide.
So, with this single coup, Intel is handing the keys of the digital
media kingdom to MS, and content providers will follow like the sheep
they are. In almost no time, Microsoft will be the default digital media
codec, in the same way that people 'chose' the 'superior' IE and WMP
programs. When the content follows, which it will, you are locked in.
But you can always play it on another player, Linux will have something
that can read it, right? Not legally in the US anyway, there are laws
against circumventing protection mechanisms, and DRM is just that. Fair
use and your rights are going to go away when EF comes to town.
Linux is verboten
So, Linux becomes a forbidden for those who want to watch a movie
legally. Think this is by chance? Think it won't catch on? There is a
$300 million plus ad campaign cooking to make sure you equate digital
media with EF, and don't question that you are giving up all your rights
to pay for the privilege. People are stupid, and by the time they catch
on that the EF machine they bought is the main method that they are
being screwed by, it will be too late and you won't be able to buy
anything else. Trust me, this really is the plan.
I have asked Intel several questions, and never really got a
satisfactory answer to any of them, mainly because I don't think they
can answer them honestly. The first one is, 'who is your customer for
EF, is it the consumer or the record companies?' That is the round about
way of saying, are you doing this for our benefit, or the content
providers? When I asked it, I don't think they had considered it enough.
Now, Intel's actions speak louder than words, and the answer is that it
is not for our benefit.
The second question is how does DRM benefit the consumer? Intel deflects
this deftly if you ask it, you get an answer to the question 'why is
your DRM version better than theirs?'. Intel replies that a single
standard is better than multiple fragmentary standards. Intel won't
point out that a single walled garden is no better than several, and in
many ways can screw you just as much. If Intel had the guts to push a
single free standard, free as in freedom not necessarily as in beer,
then I would have no problem with it.
The problem is that there is no theoretical, practical or implementation
benefit of DRM for the consumer. It costs money to develop, costs money
to implement, and adds hardware and complexity to a device. This all
comes out of your pocket while it takes your rights away.
Intel has apparently failed here, and sucked up to the money danglers at
your expense. The 'solution' it is offering, EF, only takes your rights
away when you write a cheque and so it is the wet dream of every media
executive out there. MS is rubbing its hands with glee, it gets a chunk
of everything played from 2006 on, and consumers have to just bend over
and take it.
If you don't like it, you can live without music, TV and movies, an
increasingly appealing proposition to me. You cannot play things without
tithing, that would be illegal, and probably you're even a thought crime
citizen. The fact that the 'brains' at Intel and Microsoft could not
come up with a scheme that makes them money in a way that you and I
would want to buy is a shining badge of failure.
Thanks a heap, Intel
This whole East Fork scheme is a failure from the start. It brings
nothing positive to the table, costs you money, and rights. If you want
to use Linux to view your legitimately purchased media, you will be a
criminal. In fact, if you want to take your legitimately bought media
with you on a road trip and don't feel the need to pay again for it -
fair use, remember - you are also a criminal. Wonderful.
Intel has handed the keys to the digital media kingdom to several
convicted monopolists who have no care at all for their customers. The
excuse Intel gives you if you ask is that they are producing tools, and
only tools, their use is not up to Intel. The problem here is that Intel
has given the said tools to some of the most rapacious people on earth.
If you give the record companies a DRM scheme that goes from 1 (open) to
10 (unusably locked down), they will start at 14 and lobby Congress to
mandate that it can be turned up higher by default.
In closing, thanks Intel for selling us out. Thanks Microsoft, for being
Microsoft. Thanks RIAA, MPAA and the other for being shining examples of
unbridled greed. You and I, we were sold out, and when East Fork debuts
in Q1 2006, there won't be much you can do about it, legally anyway.
Enjoy the little freedom you have left. µ