My latest Guardian column has just gone up — it talks about the “Potemkin Village” effect with DRM, whereby DRM vendors walk their potential customers through a faked-up demo showing how great DRM is, how much people want it, and how easy it is to use. The latest victim of this scam is the BBC, who’ve just decreed that their TV shows will only be delivered online through the iPlayer, a DRM service that lets you do less than you can with your old TV and VCR. Because that’s what the public is crying out for: an Internet TV that does less than a regular TV.
These demos almost never involve real hardware. It’s so much easier to do interoperability when all it takes to make two devices communicate is to draw a dotted line between them on a slide. And when the demos do involve real hardware, it’s usually all from one vendor, and only within a constrained universe of uses.
In reality, it’s bloody hard to get any two technologies to talk to each other successfully. Remember how hard it was to get your new wireless card, printer or DVD recorder to work? Now, imagine that these technologies had been deliberately designed not to work with each other – except under the exactly correct circumstances.
Microsoft’s PlaysForSure platform is typical of this. All such devices, “certified” to work with each other, barely ran on their own. And God help you if you tried to connect them to a competitor’s device (even Microsoft’s Zune won’t handle PlaysForSure music).