Moved my blog

As you've probably noticed I've moved my blog to the new address of Please update bookmarks, links etc.


Bulgaria and Romania, welcome to the union

The European Union now stands at 27 member states, with a total population of half a billion people.

European Union

Bulgaria and Romania, welcome to the European Union.

Windows Vista DRM nonsense

There's a lot of nonsense spreading across the internet over the DRM support in Windows Vista, I won't link to the article itself as most of it is inaccurate and those posting it everywhere are in even less accurate in how they interpret it. I've seen it posted several time on Microsoft's newgroups and of course it's all over Slashdot and the like.

The article basically claims that your media playback will be crippled in Windows Vista because of the new protected content pathways. This is false.

Say you've just bought Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon", released as a Super Audio CD (SACD) in its 30th anniversary edition in 2003, and you want to play it under Vista. Since the S/PDIF link to your amplifier/speakers is regarded as insecure, Vista disables it, and you end up hearing a performance by Marcel Marceau instead of Pink Floyd.

This is an example of how the article is not only factually wrong on many issues but deliberately tries to be misleading.

He is perfectly true in saying that the SACD version won't play under Windows Vista, but that's not because of Microsoft. It won't play on any PC, Windows, Macintosh, Linux or any other PC operating system because Sony won't licence the drive for use in a PC.

We'll assume he means the CD Audio version... Well he's wrong. The protected media pipelines in Windows Vista, don't apply for any content on the market today, which includes HD DVD and Blu-ray discs on sale at the moment.

The protected media pipelines will only be activated on content that requests it. HD DVD and Blu-ray both have this in the specification and the general feeling going around is the film studios won't start using this until at least 2011.

When you actually place one of these discs into a Windows Vista machine, the disc, or more accurately whatever application you use to play the disc, can ask the system what level of protection it supports. The system can return things like, all drivers are signed or video is going over HDMI, and so on. The application then can decide if it wants to; play the full quality content, downgrade the quality or refuse playback completely.

One of the things the trolls on the Microsoft newsgroups keep going on about is they'll just use Linux, or stick with Windows XP. They both fail to grasp and the article in question deliberately misleads them into thinking that full quality content will work on Windows XP or the Macintosh, or on Linux. Guess what? It won't.

The disc and playback application will ask the system how secure it is, and won't get a reply; it'll then play it in low quality mode or can refuse to play it back at all.

If you want to blame someone for all this, go talk to the MPAA. They're the people who said they didn't want full quality playback on PCs to try and reduce piracy. Microsoft offered a solution; they'll provide a way for the disc and application to know how secure the platform is so it can decide if it wants to playback in high quality.

So if you want your future HD DVD or Blu-ray films, when they start using the higher level copy protection, to playback at full quality, you'll need to use Windows Vista, or a future operating system with a similar technology. That goes for Mac OS, if they don't already have such a system and Linux too.

I'll stress again:

Windows Vista won't degrade or refuse to play your existing media, CDs, DVDs etc.

It won't decide to shutdown outputs to try and prevent copying with your existing media, it'll behave exactly like Windows XP.

The protected media pathways are only activated when protected content requests them.

HD DVD and Blu-ray films on the market today don't use this level of protection, and aren't expected to for several years yet.

The operating system doesn't decide what can play and what cannot play; it just reports the level of protection the system supports.

Full quality playback of protected content will only work on operating systems that support it. That means Apple will have to build a similar system for Mac OS, and something will have to be done with Linux, otherwise you just get low quality, or none at all.

If you read something that sounds nuts, it probably is nuts.

So what we need to do is pressure the film industry, not Microsoft, and make sure they don't roll out this level of copy protection and in my opinion give up the whole DRM effort entirely.

Thanks to Larry Osterman and Paolo Marcucci for information they shared on this topic on the Channel 9 forums.

Update 20th January 2007: Microsoft have addressed this issue on the Windows Vista team blog essentially re-enforcing what I've already written and covering some areas of the paper I didn't have the information I needed to address.

Office 2007 most innovative product of the year

According to PC World magazine it is. When you think about it, it isn't that surprising is it? Toolbars and menus are so old and completely can't handle the hundreds of features that Office has.

Innovation? Microsoft? Yes, we were surprised, too, but the Redmond giant's latest upgrade of the world's most popular productivity suite introduces several new features that revolutionize how people work with documents. The most striking change is a "ribbon" at the top of the interface that replaces the traditional cascading menus and taskbars, and can expose functions you never knew were there. Through the suite's handy new Live Preview feature, you can see how formatting changes, for example, will affect your document prior to your making them. You get greater XML-format support, too.

Microsoft Office Word 2007

I can actually find stuff I never knew existed before, and the geek in me likes the XML based file formats, not only are they smaller, they're easy to work with in other applications, you can open one up in a zip program, and browse through the XML in text editor.

Microsoft err Dinosaur Simulator

Well not quite, a pterosaur "aircraft" for Flight Simulator.

Games for Windows and Start Menu shortcuts

I've got two games branded with Games for Windows Flight Simulator X and Age of Empires 3 WarChiefs. In both cases the games didn't create a shortcut in the Start Menu.

They do however like you'd expect fill in lots of information using Windows Vista's Games Explorer feature.

Age of Empires 3 WarChiefs Games Explorer menu

But nothing on the Start Menu, this strikes me as rather silly, now it is true that I use the Games Explorer to launch all my games, but a lot of people will use the shortcuts on the Start Menu, or will just want to type the name of the application in using the search feature, and you really need the shortcuts there to get indexed at the top of the results so you can just hit enter.

Now I'm trying to remember if Lego Start Wars 2 did create a shortcut there, then we'd know if this is just a Microsoft development decision or if its origins are deeper in the Games for Windows program, if somebody has Windows Vista and other Games for Windows titles perhaps they could check. Either way, games need shortcuts in the programs group on the Start Menu.

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