October 5, 2003

Microsoft makes RMS its friend

- by David "cdlu" Graham -
Microsoft last week announced the creation of its digital rights management system, to be known as RMS, however the Free Software community asserts that it has prior art on this innovation.

According to Microsoft, "The Microsoftî Windowsî Rights Management (RM) client is required for your computer to run applications that provide functionality based on Windows RM technologies. Installing this client places software on your computer that allows RM-aware applications to work with Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) to provide licenses for publishing and consuming RM-protected information."

This, Microsoft's latest innovation, is actually an old technology.

The Free Software community released a similar system in 1984. In order for computers to be certified as running Free Software, that software has needed to be approved by the Free Software Foundation's own RMS.

The old RMS technology rejects all software that is not certified Free Software, but in a massive design oversight was never capable of fully fighting off the
freely and widely traded Open Source technology. Eventually, the RMS technology became absorbed into other technologies and ceased to be as effective a rights management system.

The FSF's RMS has been the subject of some imitation before, according to the RMS' Self-Awareness and Communications Program - Richard M. Stallman - in a conversation earlier this week: "It isn't the first time someone has named noxious software after me. Digital used the name RMS for the ugliest part of VMS--the part that made file access complex, inflexible and slow. On the other hand, when <I don't recall the name right now, but he was an AI lab PhD student> extended the work Sussman and I did on dependency-directed backtracking, he called part of that program RMS."

RMS was also once used in the sub7 trojan horse as the "ReMove Server" command.

While these other RMSes are considered relatively harmless, Microsoft's RMS is expected to invade the FSF's Rights Management monopoly in the software industry
and is not a welcome development. The FSF's business plan depends on its own RMS.

However, the original RMS is philosophical about the use of his name by his chief rival: "Perhaps I just happen to have an attractive set of initials."

The devious rights management software added, "Since the formula for standard deviation is the same as the formula for RMS, sometimes I describe myself as the "standard deviant"."


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