Palladium and You

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

There’s been a lot of talk on the Web lately about Palladium. If you don’t have strong feelings about it, it’s probably because you’re not a bleeding-edge computing enthusiast. That’s OK. You’ll hear about it in time.
Basically, Palladium is Microsoft’s initiative to reinvent the PC and make it more secure. There’s a big uproar about it because it reeks of ulterior motives. Some fear Palladium means you will surrender all rights to your PC and cede them to Redmond.

I’m not totally convinced this is a bad thing.

First off, it gives Microsoft a chance to show its true colors. There are people who will never admit that Microsoft is a ruthless monopolist with nobody’s interests but a select few executives in mind. This is because Microsoft’s behavior doesn’t affect them–they get all the software for free. Microsoft can change pricing or the terms of license all they want and it doesn’t affect the pundits (and self-styled pundits). So Microsoft can do anything they want, including releasing new versions of Windows and Office that offer no improvements over their predecessors other than new features from Microsoft’s super-secret brain-dead Bob project (and a new, higher price, of course), and these people will fall all over themselves to recommend you and I buy it, so their gravy train keeps on rolling.

They know Microsoft can give them a whole lot more than you and me. Microsoft’s got the software. You and I are just a book or magazine sale–we’re worth two bucks to them. At most. (Remember, I wrote a book–I know how and when authors get paid, and how much.)

Palladium’s a good thing because finally Microsoft’s about to do something that’ll hurt them. Suddenly, these pundits who blindly upgrade to Palladium because they’ve always blindly upgraded their Microsoft products will only be able to listen to their MP3s on the computer they created or downloaded them on–never mind that the computer in the living room has a much better sound card and a better set of speakers. And they won’t be able to look at their dirty pictures on just any of their 20 PCs anymore either. (Yeah, I’m stereotyping, but the percentages are on my side.) And maybe their favorite piece of old software won’t run because Microsoft deems it “insecure.” (Whether due to lack of time to test everything or due to its savagely competitive nature.) They’ll get annoyed. And they might finally say something about Microsoft that’s more than half true.

The annoying thing about Palladium is that it’ll require brand-new hardware to give you all the features. Which leads me to the other thing they don’t want you to know. Any modern computer is plenty fast. They’ll have you believe that a real computer runs at least at 2 GHz. Reality check: I edit and produce video on a 700 MHz computer. I’ve got complaints about that computer, but CPU power ain’t it. I wish I had another 256 megs of RAM in it, and I wish I had a 36-gig hard drive in it I could dedicate to holding clips. I’d settle for 7200 RPM, though 10,000 would be better.

Meanwhile, some people would have you believe you need a 2.5 GHz computer to run Word.

Remember, these are the people who get their hardware and software for free. When your computing dollar isn’t competing with the car payment and the rent and the kids’ college education and groceries and hobbies (you do have some hobby other than that expensive hunk of silicon, right?), you can have top-of-the-line standards.

If money were no object, I’m sure we’d all love to have dual-processor 2.5 GHz PCs. We’d also like to drive red Lambourghini Countaches to the grocery store. Or maybe you’re the more practical sort and prefer a Bentley. At any rate, you get my point. Buying a 2.5 GHz PC for word processing and e-mail is like buying a Lambourghini to go to the grocery store.

Which brings us back to Palladium. Microsoft’s target date for Palladium’s release is 2004. The only thing Microsoft ever releases on time is its financial statements. Let’s be generous and say Palladium will ship in 2005. That’s three years from now.

Think back to 1999. In 1999, a fast computer was 550 MHz.

Is it a stretch to imagine that in 2005 we’ll be looking at 10 GHz computers? Not much of one.

Which begs the question of what we’ll do with all that CPU power. Maybe video games will be doing real-time 3D raytracing with it. That’s the only use I can think of for that kind of horsepower. If you’re not big into video games, and you’re not trying to make the next Jurassic Park in your basement, you have no use for a 10 GHz computer.

So the sane masses will (I hope) putt-putt along with a 6 GHz computer with no special anticompetitive security features and an older version of Windows (or, better yet, Linux–remember, it won’t be standing still either) and never realize how unhappy they should be.

This will eat into the revenue streams of co-conspirators Microsoft, Intel, and AMD. It’ll make them less powerful. It’ll benefit companies that give you the degree of freedom over your data and the programs you run that you deserve. (VIA, for one, isn’t necessarily in on this, and they have enough technology to make an entire computer.) They’ll gain power.

And the landscape will be a better place.

The industry rebelled against IBM in the late 1980s when it tried to seize too much power. It brought out a line of computers called the PS/2 with a new bus called Microchannel that had a lot of compelling new features, but the machines easily cost 3x what anyone else would have charged for them, and third parties couldn’t make much of anything for it without paying IBM a licensing fee. Within 5 years, IBM had lost virtually all of its dominance.

Microsoft, Intel and AMD are powerful today. But they’re not much more powerful than IBM was in 1987. They may even be less powerful–the IBM of 1987 was capable of being completely self-sufficient, making their own hard drives, memory chips, motherboards, video chips, and they even made their own CPUs, licensing designs from Intel and sometimes modifying them to suit themselves better. And at the time IBM was co-developing operating systems with Microsoft. About the only things they were outsourcing were floppy drives and power supplies.

No single entity wields that kind of power today. And Microsoft, Intel, and AMD don’t exactly trust each other totally. It’s a fragile alliance.

Palladium may well be the next Microchannel.

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6 thoughts on “Palladium and You

  • June 28, 2002 at 9:52 am

    Jerry Pournelle is starting to post some stuff about Palladium as well in his web log – both in the “Current View” and “Mail” areas.

    However, I think you’ve pretty much nailed it right here 😉

  • June 28, 2002 at 6:02 pm

    Clarification: The reason I think Palladium may not necessarily be a bad thing is precisely because I don’t see how it can succeed.

    A successful Palladium would be a very bad thing, yes. But Microsoft shooting itself in the foot would be a very good thing. And when was the last time Microsoft got anything right with a 1.0 release?

    The odds are on our side.

  • June 29, 2002 at 6:11 am

    Microsoft has a spare foot left?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m tremendously glad that Microsoft pushed, pulled and bullied the PC industry to where it is today, but they didn’t do it out of altruism. I really REALLY don’t like their attitudes to licensing these days; and for a long time I haven’t liked their rather cavalier attitude to other people’s intellectual property rights. Personal opinion: in five years time they’ll have less than or about 50% of basic desktop software – operating systems and general personal productivity tools. In fact, they may have to revert to charging for Internet Explorer – may be getting close to the only thing they can sell, and they’ll want something on those 50% Linux and FreeBSD desktops.

  • June 29, 2002 at 8:35 am

    Microsoft was built on a cavalier attitude of intellectual property rights. John C. Dvorak told a story, back before anyone knew who Caldera was and right after Caldera bought the old Digital Research portfolio from Novell and launched its private lawsuit against Microsoft. In it he stated that he had seen a pre-release copy of what became DOS 1.0, and it had an easter egg–an identical easter egg as CP/M 2.2. Enter the same keystroke into both, and you got a DRI copyright notice and Gary Kildall’s name.

    It’s possible, yes, that while reverse-engineering CP/M they just included the easter egg. But the inclusion of something that obscure sure suggests a direct lifting of Kildall’s Z80 code and direct transposition/translation into 8086 code, doesn’t it?

    I doubt we’ll ever know any more than what Dvorak published that one month in his PC Magazine Inside Track column, because he never returned to the topic. And you rarely hear anything from Tim Petersen, the principal author of DOS 1.0. The court proceedings themselves are sealed; Microsoft settled out of court with Caldera for a considerable sum of money.

  • October 18, 2002 at 6:54 am

    When I first heard of Palladium I thought it was very scary. But then I thought it over… Microsoft Make Palldium, porno creeps, and warez kiddys would start finding Alternatives, Normal People that like to share each othere MP3’S will be suddenly at a loss, They would start looking to the Alternatives. Think of a System-Admin type like me… I need my Porn! People have told me that Palldium will only be compatible with Palldium servers, which is there dominance idea. Only Microsoft can use it, but hopefully the Admins are like me and enjoy there… whatever! And they will be swayed against Pallidium. And if it still goes through to this extent the DOJ should stop them. I think that Microsoft will bring there own destruction with arrogance, Kinda like how Palpatine in Star-Wars 6 says that the Empire will definitely Win, and made his moves arrogantly which led to his destruction. So thanks to Microsoft we will have nothing to worry about but I suggest you stay away from Pallidium… And please email me if you think differently about my little post.

    John Tate

  • December 7, 2002 at 12:56 am

    Microsoft’s announcement of Palladium may be something in the nature of a “trial balloon”; if so, it looks like it may be headed for the ground given the bad press it’s getting. I think that it’s just a logical next step in Microsoft’s ever-expanding efforts to attain total control over all digital information technology (so far, their forays into television are limited to MSNBC – a COMPLETELY unbiased news organization, I’m sure – and the lame-o WebTV knockoff, but the millenium is still young).

    I think we may be a little overconfident here, however. It’s not safe to assume that the egregious intrusiveness of Palladium will the emetic which finally puts Microzombies® off what I’ve heard called “the Microsoft upgrade crack-addiction”. If Palladium doesn’t go the way of Microchannel (which by some accounts was a pretty good technology), it has been suggested in an article in The Register that it may break the GNU Public License. No big surprise; they’ve bandied this kind of strategy about before in the so called Halloween Documents. I think it’s time to stop merely grousing and start screaming.

    Good luck to us all.

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