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Trusted Computing

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Although Microsoft isn’t ready to release Beta 2 of Windows Vista it has been busy with its CTP (Community Technology Preview) schedule, and in October released build 5231 of Vista. This build looks much the same as build 5129 but it is the first version to include Windows Media Player 11, and the Windows Security Center has gained a tab for Spyware Protection, in addition to the Firewall, Virus Protection, and Automatic Updating tabs that came with Windows XP SP2. The look and feel of Vista hasn’t changed noticeably in build 5231, but that’s not to say that Microsoft won’t pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute in a bid to out-Apple Mac OS X. We are starting to make out the shape of Vista as it appears from the mists of 2006, but there is still a bit of a mystery over the Trusted Computing side of things. Microsoft is deeply involved in what was called the TCPA (Trusted Computing Platform Alliance) and is now called the TCG (Trusted Computing Group). Microsoft used to refer to its Trusted Computing technology as Palladium but has since changed it to NGSCB, or Next Generation Secure Computing Base.

Trusted Computing uses a chip called a TPM (Trusted Computing Module), also nicknamed a Fritz-chip, after Senator Ernest ‘Fritz’ Hollings of South Carolina who retired in December 2004 after 38years in the US Senate during which time he sponsored a number of legal bills aimed at protecting intellectual property rights. We can bitch all we like about intellectual property, copyright and software patents but The Economist recently stated that technology licensing is worth US$100 billion per annum globally of which the USA accounts for US$45 billion, which is an impressive chunk of cash. More scarily The Economist stated that ‘up to three-quarters of the value of publicly traded companies in America comes from intangible assets, up from around 40 per cent in the early 1980s.’ No doubt a large part of that value is trademarks and brands such as Boeing, Coke and Nike rather than IT technology but there’s no denying that the Americans have a massive vested interest in protecting this money, whether we like it or not.

The Fritz chip sits on your motherboard and offers a secure, or trusted, computing environment. If the Fritz-chip doesn’t like your operating system then it won’t load, so you can forget about running Apple OS X on your PC unless Steve Jobs sells you a license.

Although the Darwin environment that underpins Apple OS X uses BSD and has been released as Open Source software by Apple, Rosetta, the translation software that Intel Macs will use to run legacy software relies on TCPA/TPM DRM and the Apple GUI also requires Rosetta. You may be able to install OS X but you won’t be able to do anything worthwhile with it.

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