A small section of Jim Allchin's deposition for the Microsoft trial we'd overlooked until now casts an interesting light on the way Microsoft had been planning to give itself an edge in secure music distribution. Jim tells us that in accordance with the commitments the company has made in the Revised Proposed Final Judgment (RPFJ, the document agreed with the DoJ) it won't be doing that after all, but we're not entirely sure about that, considering.
The section deals with Secure Audio Path, the Microsoft technology designed to keep music protected and uncopyable right up until it comes out of the speaker. From Microsoft's point of view it could be a serious money-spinner, because it is intended to provide the music with a method of selling digital audio without it getting stolen. It is potentially far more secure than plain old audio CDs (aside from the ones that have been mucked around with), and therefore technologies of this sort could conceivably supplant the audio CD.
Secure Audio Path goes with Windows Media Player, which like IE has become a part of the OS, and which therefore also like IE is middleware covered by the RPFJ. Questioned about examples of how middleware vendors can take advantage of the RPFJ, Allchin says: "On the deep technical side, Real could take advantage of something like the secure audio path, which today they cannot."
There are obvious reasons - of sorts - why pre-RPFJ vendors might not automatically get access to secure audio path technology. Associated software written by vendors not approved by Microsoft (or, uh, other kinds of people) could compromise its ability to block copying by fooling some of the other software somewhere along the way from the hard disk through the sound card to the speaker. One of the features is therefore a mechanism for identifying compromised certificates and zapping their privileges. However if Microsoft didn't give rivals details of secure audio path it would have had the ubiquitous player and complete control of the secure music distribution technology that goes along with it.
Real of course has its own secure content distribution systems, but had (and indeed still has) the challenge of getting its software onto people's computers in order for it to be able to do deals with content owners.
Asked what, specifically, it is about the RPFJ that "now enables middleware vendors to take advantage of SAP whereas they couldn't before," Allchin answers as follows:
"Well, we need to -- as required in here, we have to document the interfaces from the Windows Media Player into the rest of the system, and we need to document those and provide those.
Q. Is that something you didn't do before?
A. That is correct.
Q. What form will this documentation take?
A. Well, we will have it to the degree of the level of what we do in MSDN level, API descriptions for taking advantage of it."
So clearly Microsoft had intended not to document the relevant WMP APIs - whether documentation will be enough to level the SAP playing field for Real is of course another matter.®
MS plans 'Secure PC' that won't copy pirated audio files