The Rest of the Story
We Knew It Was Too Good To Be True
Well, an editorial would not be an editorial without a little paranoid ranting, and that is what a lot of people out there seem to be doing. Over the course of XP development, people have been going crazy looking for conspiracies, certain that somehow Microsoft is out to control every aspect of their lives. As with most extreme arguments, the truth falls somewhat more in the middle, but we will speculate on it anyway.
Issue 1: General Exclusivity
This is a big one. People are going crazy over the idea that Microsoft is trying to lock them out of the OS and replace the functionality that third parties used to provide with its own, highly controlled software. Examples? Signed drivers is a big one. The idea here is that Microsoft wants to prevent unstable, buggy drivers from being introduced into the fold that might make the system less stable than it should be. The downside is that manufacturers are requested to submit your drivers directly to Microsoft for approval before you try to peddle them to consumers. Microsoft is said to have put code into the OS that will strongly warn users against using non-signed drivers and has even built in a driver rollback feature to help you get rid of them.
Why all the fuss? Because people are worried that they have to get the approval of Microsoft. What if you wanted to include your own third party WMA decoder that did not have any copy protection or digital rights management features built in but Microsoft refused to sign off on the drivers and codecs? What if they did the same for video files, DVD encoders/decoders, MP3's, Quick Time and a whole lot more? What if they hooked up with the RIAA (Recording Industry Association Of America) to limit your ability to make MP3's of your own music, or to prevent you from downloading those MP3's to CD-R's or Rio-like devices? What if they forced you to use digital rights management and kept track of how many copies you made of your own music? Pretty explosive issue, potentially.
Kodak had a huge problem with Microsoft regarding the default online photo print service until just a short while ago. If you wanted to use the quick and easy features that let you order prints online, the plan was that you had to go through the Microsoft preferred provider instead of one you might prefer. Apparently Kodak and Microsoft may have worked things out, but it is likely that they only were able to solve it because Kodak railed at them in the press and Microsoft wanted to avoid further hassles.
To protect or to spy?
People are also upset with the proposed firewall that Microsoft has built into XP. Microsoft may be trying to protect their consumers from the very real dangers out there, but some are doubtful. They fear that the Microsoft firewall may not only be less secure, but may actually have code that allows Microsoft information to pass through it without notifying the user. For instance, they cite examples of the software that came with their Game Voice, which was said to send all kinds of system data, including serial numbers, hardware configuration, internet software preferences and more - all under the guise of "evaluating the potential for problems that may need to be addressed in future technical support situations. Perhaps the firewall will allow information to be sent to and from Microsoft that monitors your browsing preferences or installation configuration, perhaps even your product ID's for all installed Microsoft products to check against a master database in a search for pirated software.
These fears may be based in reality, or it may not be, but the point is, the fear is there. Vendors are feeling the heat to compete, and many seem perfectly happy to be suspicious of Microsoft, particularly given their past behavior. To be sure, Microsoft is feeling the heat as well. They have already scrapped their plans for the dreaded "Smart Tags", which some felt pushed browsers to Microsoft preferred destinations instead of non-affiliated sites and search tools. Perhaps some of the fear was that vendors could buy their way to the head of the line, or that vendors who did not kowtow to Microsoft might not be included in the mix. But by canceling the concept - at least for now - Microsoft has avoided the issue for the time being.