• The Apple/Intel Report: DRM or Not? Big Deal!

    August 6th, 2005

    For the past 21 years, nobody has disputed the fact that the Mac operating system was designed to run strictly on Macs. Or on computers licensed to do so by Apple Computer. Despite that oh-so-obvious fact of life, and loads of screw-ups along the way, the company has managed to somehow survive and, of late, prosper.

    With the great transition to using Intel processors underway, Apple has made it quite clear that nothing will change. The Mac OS will still be designed to run strictly on Macs. There has been speculation as to how Apple will ensure this protective measure. For example, there’s a claim out there that Apple will use so-called “Trusted Computing” hardware to keep Mac OS X on Macs. In fact, the Macintels that Apple is leasing to developers, reconfigured Power Macs with a Pentiums inside, supposedly incorporate such a module. But what’s being called the “TCM” is controversial, because it supposedly has far more onerous consequences, such as preventing you from ripping a music CD more often than the music company wants.

    To make matters more confusing, there are also reports out there that these development computers do not incorporate such a digital rights management scheme.

    Understand that developers who join Apple’s programs are required to sign confidentiality agreements, which means they can’t talk about the prerelease software or hardware they’re testing. Of course, that doesn’t stop some of them from blabbing the inner details of what their doing to certain Mac rumor sites or other online sources. But here we have a basic contradiction. Some say TCM is there, some say it’s not. Is it all simple fear-mongering? Just what is going on here?

    Well, there are possibilities. One is that Apple is building different versions of its development boxes in order to test various technologies to guard against running Mac OS X on unauthorized hardware. That assumes that the claimants are being honest and not just making claims to earn their 15-minutes of anonymous fame. Regardless of the truth, these computers are not products that will ever be sold. They are testing platforms that will eventually have to be returned to Apple. The actual Macintels that will be built and sold beginning next year may be quite different from the ones developers are working on now.

    Besides, we’ve all grown to accept the fact that the Mac OS is designed to run strictly on Apple hardware. So why should you expect anything to change simply because another company builds the processor? If anything, you should expect that Apple will continue to do what it can to prevent cloning. Oh, right, this is different. Don’t hundreds of millions of PCs use Intel chips? Isn’t that supposed to mean something, indicate that Apple is poised to take another stab at licensing its crown jewels?

    Sure, it’s quite possible that you will eventually be able to buy a shrink-wrapped copy of Mac OS X and install it on your Dell, your HP, your Gateway, your Alienware, or your home-brewed computing box. It’s also possible that I’ll be running for president some day, but I will give both prospects a less-than-zero chance of coming true within the foreseeable future.

    Apple nearly bought the farm the last time it tried cloning. When Steve Jobs took over the company several years ago as its “interim” CEO, he deep-sixed the program. Now maybe Apple could have devised a better licensing scheme, one that wouldn’t have the potential of bankrupting the company. Hindsight has its advantages of showing the folly in the original plan.

    But I don’t see Steve Jobs reversing himself on such a critical move. Sure, Apple has spread some of its products to a wider universe when it fit within its strategic vision, and the iPod is a notable and highly successful example. But it still earns the lion’s share of its profits from the sale of personal computers. This doesn’t mean that Macs sales will sink into oblivion if the operating system wasn’t tied to the hardware, but how could it be otherwise?

    So all this furor over the existence or non-existence of TCM is downright silly. Not just because you have no way of knowing exactly what sort of hardware setup Apple will use, but because it changes absolutely nothing. As far as I’m concerned, the chip inside your Mac shouldn’t matter one bit, so long as it performs to your expectations. You want a speedy computer, why should you care who built the processor? You want a much faster, yet cool running PowerBook with superior battery life? So do I, and that is precisely what you are going to be able to buy some time in the next year or two.

    So let’s give all this talk of digital rights management hardware or lack thereof a rest and talk about something important for a change!

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