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Palladium operating system

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Palladium was Microsoft's codename for their new "trusted computing" architecture. Under Palladium, the Microsoft operating system, working with a secure cryptoprocessor embedded in the PC, will act as a gatekeeper controlling all functions of the PC, preventing the execution of unauthorised code. Their stated aim is to fix the problems of current computer insecurity. Opponents characterise it as an attempt to control the market for computer hardware and software, thus entrenching and extending Microsoft's existing desktop computer operating system and software monopoly. Opponents have also characterised it as an attempt to leverage this monopoly into a monopoly over Digital Rights Management, and hence effective control over the content delivery industry.

Palladium builds on Microsoft's patent on a "Digital Rights Management Operating System", effectively allowing it to control the development and use of software for any PC using Palladium hardware. Eventually, the Palladium platform is anticipated as controlling all aspects of computer operation, including web browsing and E-mail.

A sidenote: the Palladium initiative is supposedly named after the Palladium, a legendary statue in ancient Troy. Supposedly, while the statue was safe, so was the city. Legend tells us that Troy fell to a Trojan horse attack.

In 2003, Microsoft reacted to the negative publicity surrounding the Palladium operating system by dropping the name "Palladium". They now refer to it as the "next-generation secure computing base" (NGSCB).

What was previously referred to as the "trusted root" has been renamed the "Nexus". Palladium-aware applications will be said to be "Nexus-aware".

Criticism

Many criticisms of Palladium are based on speculation because there is no working implementation, and because Microsoft has an incentive not to release information about Palladium that would make it look bad. The criticism centres around the fact that Palladium would necessarily make the operating system the element with the highest level of control over the system, above the actual user of the computer. Criticisms are built upon the belief that Microsoft will use the superior position of being the architect of the operating system to its own advantage and hence to the disadvantage of the user.

Various scenarios of what Microsoft could do in such a position of control are:

  • Microsoft could enable producers of information to specify in the metadata of their information how this information may be used by the computer user.
Possible restrictions include:
  • Only allowing certain programs to access this information.
  • Restricting the ability to copy the information.

This is just a taste of what Microsoft could do. Other potential problem scenarios might be:

  • Dishonest corporations or individuals preventing their employees from whistleblowing by storing compromising data on a Palladium/NGSCB computer where it could not be copied. Whether this would make Microsoft guilty of perverting the course of justice (their OS would prevent criminals being brought to justice) is a matter for discussion.
  • Organised crime groups and dishonest politicians doing the same.
  • Governments seeing this as a way of controlling various content that is damaging to them. Imagine if Palladium/NGSCB had been around in when Nixon was president and the Watergate evidence had been stored on a Palladium/NGSCB computer...
  • Microsoft being able to expire old versions of their software, and data files created by those old software versions, as often as they wished, with total data loss for customers who do not participate in the forced upgrade.

Currently, Microsoft is asking users to trust that it will not abuse these powers.

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