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Hanging on by their fingertips – the last bastion of the proprietary-ware industry

Want to watch a Blu-ray on your PC? That’ll be £50 please. Simon, for one, is fed up of this game. Join him as he looks at one of the many wheezes the proprietary software and hardware industry are still trying to pull…

I’ve just opened up my e-mail mailbox, to be greeted by press releases for another round of product announcements. The one that caught my eye, as it does every year, is the release for another piece of DVD playback software. In this case, it’s Corel WinDVD Pro 11, although it’s not the only offender. And if you’re looking for an example of the wheezes the proprietary hardware and software industries pull, then look no further.

I’m all for progress, and was a very early adopted of the DVD format, gratefully taken full advantage of the improved quality of movies over their VHS counterparts, along with the added storage of the discs themselves. DVD was an answer to a question people were actually asking, which makes it feel like something of a rarity in the modern technology world.

DVD, of course, made lots of people a lot of money, and soon hit saturation point. This led said people to find new ways to keep making lots of money. They’d enjoyed making it, and were always on the lookout for more. It was clear that DVD margins were gone, and open source had even gone and provided a lightweight, free alternative to the otherwise costly software alternatives.

Step forward Blu-ray, then, and I was a less keen, albeit eventual, adopter of it. With many high definition movies, combined with a decent telly, I see a difference I’m happy with, although the cosmic jump from analogue to digital this was not. Nonetheless, on board I clambered. And the DVD software companies breathed a sigh of relief, able once more the impose a £50+ charge for a piece of software that does the same job as a similarly priced piece of hardware. That’s one of the many things I always struggled to reconcile in my head. I think I’m getting old and miserable.

Now, of course, the latest thing we’re being sold is 3D. I wasn’t aware I wanted 3D, and that’s because I don’t want it at all. But, looking at the press release that’s greeting me now, it’s talking about 3D as if it’s the breakthrough the world has been waiting for. I’m also informed that over 250 million copies of this particular piece of software have been sold worldwide. There’s a thought.

Sony has worked a trick with the Blu-ray format, of course, that means it’s now seemingly illegal to even take a screenshot of a Blu-ray movie. The reason for this is that for you to take a screenshot, you’d need to crack the copy protection first, and if you do that, then the whole of Sony will implode. Thus, the firm will have little choice but to try and sue your ass off.

And, one consequence of lockouts such as that, is that if you want to be able to play a Blu-ray movie back on your computer, you need to pay for a piece of software for the privilege of doing so.

Oh, but hang on. You can’t, can you? Not if you’re a Linux user, because Sony has decreed that Blu-ray and Linux are not to get on, else you’d be in violation of some ancient order, etched on tablets, that would the firm would get custody of your children, or something. I might have misread that bit.

Every time I feel that the open source movement is making major inroads, and it evidently has, then an example of the old status quo is never that far away, sadly. And I don’t blame Corel. But I do see increasing examples of people clinging to the way things were with all their force. And from what I can make out, they have quite powerful fingertips…

Download Only
The problem with Blu-ray protection may not be corrected by the time downloads fully take over. Not for nothing are content producers swarming around services that lock anti-consumer limitations around their work. It harks back to the days when the government wanted to outlaw you keeping recorded programmes on video tapes for more than three weeks, for my money…