Several of you have written to point to a new article by Peter Gutmann, who argues that content protection (known commonly as DRM, but arguably broader than that) will exact a major cost in Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista. These issues should be of special interest to Windows musicians: Gutmann predicts Vista’s new content protection features will disable video output functions, eliminate open source and unified drivers, consume more resources, and cause a major loss in device compatibility and system reliability.

A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

Now, this is just the kind of coverage that Windows experts have begun to dub Windows FUD, after the “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” Microsoft themselves tried to spread about rival platforms — now, though, with Microsoft the target. Of course, there are two kinds of FUD — the propaganda kind, based on false or exaggerated information, or real fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which scary OS features might rightfully cause! The challenge is figuring out where the truth lies.

First, I think it’s worth setting aside the DRM restrictions imposed by the new HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats, at least to the extent that those directly impact the OS. These new requirements are just downright hideous, but that’s the fault of the big studios backing the lockdown, not necessarily Microsoft, and you can (as I and many others plan to do) save your pennies and stick with DVDs for the time being.

The question really is, to what extent will changes in Vista impact music and visual work? So far, indications suggest things may not be as bad as they seem. For the time being, I don’t see any big migration to 64-bit Windows, and 32-bit Windows Vista can install unsigned drivers, meaning your existing devices should (mostly) work — or, at least, you can install them. (64-bit Vista, in contrast, is even more incompatible with software and drivers than Windows x64, suggesting 64-bit is even further off than it seemed with Windows XP x64.)

It’s also difficult to tell how much of this article is based on planning documents rather than the finished OS.

I pass this along only because I’d be glad to have someone shed more light on the situation. My personal feeling is that the best way to find out the truth is based on the actual, shipping operating system, not speculation on planning documents. Until Microsoft gets Vista into my hands (which they do say will be any day now), I can’t comment directly.

So, if you’re the kind who is easily startled, I’d take this with a grain of salt or just wait (something you’re likely to be doing for Vista drivers, anyway). But those of you who write drivers for a living (yes, that is actually a surprising number of CDM readers), feel free to debunk — or confirm — the items in this story.