Signs of intelligent life:
Napster/Microsoft/DeCSS per an eWeek Labs illuminati #inc perl DeCSS
From: eLabs Report [mailto:eLabs_ReportATeletters1.ziffdavis.com]
Sent: Monday, March 12, 2001 12:37 PM
: Technology Freedoms Are Eroding
All content of eLabs Report was created for this publication and does not appear in eWEEK magazine or on the eWEEK Web site hosted by ZDNet.
Copyright © 2001 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All rights reserved.
Technology Freedoms Are Eroding
By Jim Rapoza
Freedom, that's what I'd like to talk about today. Maybe it's just the long New England winter making me feel locked in, but I've been seeing some unsavory developments lately in the technology arena that are affecting my freedom.
Right now, you might be saying to yourself, "Oh no, not another column about Napster." Nope. For the record, as a former professional musician, I'm in favor of the free distribution of music. It helps many more artists than it hurts, and it may finally mean the end of lousy records with one good song. If you'd like to use OpenNap servers, I recommend the Napigator plug-in for Napster. You can download it by clicking here.
Comparative tests of rival databases on similar hardware configurations have become almost extinct.
Now that that is out of the way, let's turn to some other issues that are restricting my freedom more significantly than the loss of access to MP3 files would. One that affects me directly, both as a product reviewer and as a consumer of enterprise software, is yet another move by a large vendor to control performance testing of its products.
A recent story suggested that Microsoft barred an unnamed lab from publishing the results of tests it ran-tests that purportedly showed SQL Server 2000 running better on Windows NT 4.0 than it did on Windows 2000.
Microsoft isn't alone in this kind of behavior: Oracle acted similarly many years ago when independent, unbiased benchmarking exposed its databases as complete performance dogs. Following Oracle's lead, most database vendors began including terms in their licensing agreements that precluded the publication of benchmark results. The legality of these restrictions is dubious, but few individuals or labs would risk challenging the vendors. Ziff Davis publications have published benchmarks without vendor approval, and our decisions have often led to icy relations with vendors.
The other downside to these vendor impositions is that comparative tests of rival databases on similar hardware configurations have become almost extinct. A business can run tests itself, but most companies lack the resources that large testing labs have. So would-be buyers and other interested parties are forced to rely on either trustworthy but incomplete testing by objective small internal labs or on thorough tests using specific configuration and tuning parameters preapproved by vendors. Never mind that the vendors' carefully engineered settings might be unmatched in any real-world implementations.
The other issue that is bothering me is also an old one, but with some new twists. Many of you might remember the legal case against DeCSS, a program that made it possible to play DVDs on a Linux system. The thorny issue with this program was that to make it possible to play a DVD, the program had to break the DVD's encryption protection. A court fight ensued, and a misinformed judge ordered sites to stop providing or linking to the DeCSS code.
To read more about the DeCSS controversy, please click here.
Much of the debate in that case centered on whether software code is regarded, for legal purposes, as free speech. I think that code is free speech, and this is an important issue. Another factor in the case, though, was that the judge decided that the legitimate use of DeCSS-playing DVDs-was less important than the technology's potential as a tool for illegal piracy, even though no other DVD player exists for Linux.
This is a huge slippery slope because, for example, most of the tools I use to monitor and maintain security in my network can also be used to hack other networks. Does this mean they should be outlawed? If you think this is a spurious argument, think again. A recent bill proposed in Europe would, if approved, essentially make many security tools illegal.
Recently, to reinforce the case for free code and the ability to play DVDs on Linux, two programmers at MIT released a very simple Perl script that essentially does the same thing that DeCSS does. The programmers feel that the sheer simplicity of the code is strong evidence that attempts to restrict use of such code are dangerous.
After all, distributing tiny strings of code is easy, not to mention almost impossible to control. For example, this Perl script could be something as simple as:
# 531-byte qrpff-fast, Keith Winstein and Marc Horowitz
# MPEG 2 PS VOB file on stdin -> descrambled output on stdout
# arguments: title key bytes in least to most-significant order
Hey, I'm starting to feel better already.
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