Real networks, DRM and Linux

It looks like Jeff Ayars from Real had the following to say at LinuxWorld in Boston:
“The consequences of Linux not supporting DRM would be that fixed-purpose consumer electronics and Windows PCs would be the sole entertainment platforms available,” Ayers said. “Linux would be further relegated to use in servers and business computers, since it would not be providing the multimedia technologies demanded by consumers.”
A couple comments here. First, Linux is not nearly currently anything that would even come close to resembling a consumer entertainment platform. 9 out of 10 distros still don't support MP3 out of the box. Before you chime in with shouts of livna (which is fantastic and I use and recommend), note that we are talking consumer here. If you think the answer to playing the most widely supported audio format is “first, enable this yum repo and then install the following packages”, then you're clearly not the average consumer. So that brings us back to a topic I have talked about on this blog time and time again. What are we going to give up in the Linux community to get that much talked about “mass adoption”. My guess is, you're going to find out very soon. I'd say 12-18 months at the most and we'll start to see some of the myriad decisions start to unravel. I've said it in the past and I'll say it again. I'd prefer not to hit 90% market share if it costs us much of why most people think Linux is good. What market share do I think is the max if we don't conceded on some of these issues and what market share is acceptable for the major Linux vendors out there? The former is a question I've been thinking a lot about lately and one that I had a lengthy discussion about at LinuxWorld. I'm still thinking though, so I don't have an answer yet. The latter I really have no idea about, you'd have to ask them.
So, that brings us to the next topic. DRM. Like most others, I really don't like DRM. I'm pretty sure consumers are not clammering for DRM. What they want is the content, and the media companies currently seem to be insisting on putting DRM on that. One problem with DRM though, is that it barely even slows down piracy, but is a major hindrance to people trying to do legitimate things in a way that the content industry may not have thought of. Something as simply as purchasing a song in iTunes and playing it in Linux for instance. The reality though, is that not only do most people not care about DRM – they don't even know what it is! I think that will soon change though. Why? Let's break people down into four basic groups. This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but I think it will illustrate my point.
1) The average user
2) The person who will pirate everything, for no other reason than to do it
3) The technically savvy crowd who dislikes DRM not because they want to pirate, but because of the privacy and convenience issues
4) The few people technically skilled enough to actually figure out and circumvent DRM and then distribute tools for groups 2+3 to use.
Right now, DRM really only impacts group #3 (which I would put myself in – I have *no* problem purchasing 100% of the software and content I use, but if it doesn't work on my platform of choice I have no problem simply finding something else to use/watch). Group #2 uses the tools that group #4 created and has 300 movies download of which they have probably watched 4. This group should be considered non sequitur for the content industry, since nearly NONE of them would likely purchase any content no matter what. That brings us to group #1, which represents the vast majority of the content purchasing public. Right now, DRM probably has not inconvenienced them too much. However, if the content industry gets their way with some of the proposed asinine implementations, they will be severely impacted. Who will they turn to when their file doesn't play, their movies doesn't load or whatever other content they have doesn't work? If you're in group #3, you're probably smiling, because you know it's you. The content industries are getting greedy now. They are turning record profits (pun intended) but they want more. But their greed will be their undoing. Once group #1 becomes sufficiently inconvenienced that they start listening to what group #3 has to say about DRM, there can be only one outcome. The same outcome that always eventually happens when a company or group tries to do something that is inherently not in the best interest of the masses. Revolution. The sad part here is that DRM could legitimately be used in a whole host of interesting ways. It seems greed my just not allow that though.
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6 Responses to Real networks, DRM and Linux

  1. Anonymous says:

    About the future of market share of Linux, if the average user doesn't care about how computers work, what will be the diference between running an OS or other?
    And won't be eventually a company that puts Linux on par with OS X/Windows and with it sacrificing freedom and openness, which is want you mean when state “if it costs us much of why most people think Linux is good”.
    More market share has it's ups and downs and it won't be the same for everybody.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you that DRM could have some legitimate uses. This whole crapola from the greed industry is going to ruin it, though. Remember when you (I think that I heard it from you first) referred to the promotional videos from Microsoft for Vista (right around the time they chose that lame name)? I watched them (Stevo was such a great narrator) and couldn't help but think about how he put such a good spin on DRM. He was pointing out how it would be a great tool for professors and the like to share their work with grad students without having it accessible to the rest of the world. What a great way to ensure that your work is complete before you release it for peer review. As a measure to keep you buying multiple copies of a song or movie? No good.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The difference right now is that to some extent, Linux *makes* you care. The question of “what should we sacrifice to gain market share” has been the subject of a couple of posts on this blog, if that's a subject that interests you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Stunning, isn't it? The irony of course is that greed almost always makes you end up with less, not more (at least in the long run). I don't see why this situation will end up much differently.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Well it makes some people care, specially the ones that use Linux and other opensource OSes. And maybe those people can pass the word to everbody else or we'll have to wait until “group #1 becomes sufficiently inconvenienced that they start listening to what group #3” as you correctly put it.
    Overall this isn't just an issue with just DRM, as there're things that just work on specific plataforms but most people don't know that these problems exist in the first place.

  6. Anonymous says:

    He was pointing out how it would be a great tool for professors and the like to share their work with grad students without having it accessible to the rest of the world.
    Tomas Hellix
    mp3 blog

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