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Cringely: MS To Hurt Linux Via USB Enhancements

timothy posted about 10 years ago | from the embrace-and-extinguish dept.

Microsoft 877

frogspit writes "In this article, Cringely suggests that MS's proposed enhancements to USB to address security issues have the added benefit (for them) of hurting Linux."

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Marketing hype? No, unfortunate reality. (5, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | about 10 years ago | (#10277864)

Oh, you'll be able to upgrade your 2004 or 2005 PC to Longhorn, but it will never work quite as well as a new 2006 PC actually designed to run the OS. This is called marketing, folks, and it is what keeps us buying new PCs and other electronic devices over and over again.

Nah, they are going to make it move from marketing hype to marketing reality. They want to DRM the OS, the BIOS, and the peripherals so that they can lock out whoever and whatever they want.

They have already made the deals w/Phoenix to make a MSFT certified BIOS that will enable them to not boot "insecure" OSs. They are in talks to get the RIAA to support a format to make CDs unreadable in machines other than those running Windows (I presume this would include insecure versions of Windows as well). They are working to get the MPAA to agree to allow them to distribute movie materials via WMP which will likely lead to DVDs "protected" with MSFT products.

So they aren't just going to have use buying PCs over and over again to keep up with their protection schemes... They are going to have us buying everything over and over again.

bad presumption.... (2, Interesting)

csmacd (221163) | about 10 years ago | (#10277899)

An "enhancement" could always be included in a service pack to allow DRM CDs on 95,98,etc.

What about legacy auto/component players?

Here's to hoping the OpenBIOS project can workaroud some of this junk.

Re:Marketing hype? No, unfortunate reality. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277911)

They have already made the deals w/Phoenix to make a MSFT certified BIOS that will enable them to not boot "insecure" OSs.

I think you will be able to boot whatever you want, but MS products won't interface with "non-trusted" platforms (ie no email or file sharing).

Maybe some networks would take this step, but I doubt it.

I predict this will go the way of passport -- only hotmail will support it.

Re:Marketing hype? No, unfortunate reality. (5, Funny)

TopShelf (92521) | about 10 years ago | (#10277914)

BAH - Microsoft would never get away with such blatantly anti-competitive, monopolist tactics. I predict the DOJ would be able to stop such activity by 2020 or so...

By which time of course USB will be a distant memory.

Not a chance (5, Funny)

unicorn (8060) | about 10 years ago | (#10278175)

I don't think Longhorn will be shipped by 2020.

Best reason to vote Bush out (-1, Offtopic)

KlomDark (6370) | about 10 years ago | (#10278236)

He has completely ignored, if not actively schemed against, the government checks and balances to provide a truly free society and economy.

He'd like us all to believe that a totally unencumbered economy will lead to riches for everyone, but instead it only bolsters the rich 1% and takes us back down the road to feudalism.

From a geek's point of view (And there are many others) - get Bush out, or he'll take your Open Source software away soon.

I've never seen any reason for non-millionnaires to vote with the Republican party. They want to turn the USA into another Mexico - only extremely rich and extremely poor, no middle class at all.

Nah, just USofA-centrism and exaggeration (5, Insightful)

hummassa (157160) | about 10 years ago | (#10278117)

1. I won't buy any hardware that hash such encumbrances, as an end-user.
2. In my country DMCA-style laws won't pass because (a) they would be inconstitutional (b) we would not like them ... obviously GWB&cia can come here and "liberate" us from our democratic constitution or protect the rainforest or other gibberish like that, but somehow I hope not.
3. I won't buy any such hardware as a sysadmin because of vendor lock-in and associated costs. I can graft a spreadsheet proving it as a bad business move in 5 minutes. I did it before.
4. People in the USofA may buy stuff again and again but in other, not-so-rich parts of the world, we tend to make our stuff last a little bit more. My government-owned day-work computer is 4 years old and I'll have to cope with it for 2-3 more years. If USB ports were a problem here, they would be disabled in the BIOS and/or soldered.
I probably had more to say, but I'm not feeling very well today.

1st post mofo (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277870)

1st Post ? Is it i womder? hu huh hu

Oh no! (1, Funny)

phaetonic (621542) | about 10 years ago | (#10277879)

Someone is suggesting Microsoft is doing something to further their existence and bring their competition down, sound the alarms!

Worse ... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 10 years ago | (#10278014)

Someone is suggesting Microsoft is doing something to further their existence and bring their competition down, sound the alarms!

No. Someone is pointing out that a convicted monolopist is using their position to change a standard in such a way as to be able to exclude all competition who don't pay a license to Microsoft to implement it.

Since it will probably have a bunch of patent/license encumberance that will have the effect of saying "Microsoft gets to decide who is in the industry" and everyone else can go home.

It will have the rather un-nerving effect that Microsoft can effectively lock out any open source projects from ever speaking to hardware ever again. Wanna reverse engineer the USB to allow for interoperability? Well, if it's encumbered technology reverse engineering would be illegal.

Oh, sorry. Can't afford a new USB device? Bought yours on sale? Well, we have decided that Microsoft gets to be the sole arbiter of what people can do with their devices. Which means you could eventually find scenarios where you don't own your data -- you have a license from Microsoft to give them your data which becomes their property and they get to assign DRM/usage rules to it.

The fact the government isn't really leary about the fact that Microsoft is in effect saying "all your base are belong to us" with how the industry handles hardware.

If Microsoft wants to go to a totally closed shop mentality as far as every single piece of hardware is concerned, they will probably quickly find Apple overtaking them.

Re:Worse ... (0, Troll)

October_30th (531777) | about 10 years ago | (#10278153)

Wanna reverse engineer the USB to allow for interoperability?...Can't afford a new USB device?... Bought yours on sale?

How about licensing the damn scheme? As long as you have the option of buying the license, Microsoft can't be accused of exercising an illegal monopoly.

But what if your own OS license won't allow you to comply with Microsoft's terms? Well, too bad then. Just remember that it's your own license that's stopping you - not Microsoft.

Re:Worse ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278165)

>If Microsoft wants to go to a totally closed shop
>mentality as far as every single piece of hardware
>is concerned, they will probably quickly find Apple
> overtaking them.

The same Apple that Microsoft has inveseted in?

Jobs is Gate's tool.

Re:Worse ... (4, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 10 years ago | (#10278187)

Actually, this may not be as horrible as everyone makes it out to be. What I think we will see happening is Microsoft will be responsible for another type of proprietary (maybe the wrong word) machine, like a Mac. Only one operating system was thought of when designing it, while a couple others might pop up on the radar ever so quickly. The only difference between this and Apple with their Macs is there are more 3rd parties involved in this one.

In the meantime, the PC platform will keep on being there, like it has for over 20 years... and companies actually entertaining leaving the PC platform for the Almost-PC-Microsoft platform will come around. I promise.

Re:Worse ... (1)

Too Much Noise (755847) | about 10 years ago | (#10278199)

If Microsoft wants to go to a totally closed shop mentality as far as every single piece of hardware is concerned, they will probably quickly find Apple overtaking them.

Sorry to bust your bubble, but Apple does not have enough volume to threaten MS on the desktop. There are simply too many hardware players in the PC industry when compared to the Mac one. Software, too.

For the user that goes to BestBuy/CompUSA/whatever to buy a computer will likely end up in the HUGE PC area rather than in the small Apple one. And, as they won't care what OS runs on that computer as long as they can use it for what they want, guess what OS will they be taking home? Hint: this is why most hardware must 'work with Windows' to sell decently (witness iPod).

Re:Oh no! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278043)

Microsoft is a monopoly. Anything they do to purposfully hurt the competition, as opposed to making their product better on its own merit, is by
definition, anti-competitive, and ILLEGAL.

If you're big enough, it becomes illegal to hold the little guy down on purpose.

Re:Oh no! (-1, Redundant)

Chess_the_cat (653159) | about 10 years ago | (#10278179)

Microsoft is a monopoly.

No, they're not. Not sure if you've heard about Linux.

Does USB mean.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277885)

Universal Serial Bashing?

Wow, just wow.... (-1, Flamebait)

Kenja (541830) | about 10 years ago | (#10277888)

This has got to be the most inane paranoid rambling I've read since I flipped thourgh an X-Files novel. How do people who think like this even function? I would be suprised that they could even make it to the store to buy food without having a fit because everyone was out to get them.

Re:Wow, just wow.... (1, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | about 10 years ago | (#10277972)

This has got to be the most inane paranoid rambling I've read since I flipped thourgh an X-Files novel.
I've got to agree. There is NO way to make any OS or device completely secure, and the best security addresses the PEOPLE component, which this fails to do.

And, as far as Cringley's statement about Microsoft going after people who reverse-engineer it to allow for compatability w. open-source software, that's a non-starter for 95% of the world's population, where such reverse-engineering is okay - and in the US, the justice department would probably frown upon yet another monopoly action by the Beast from Redmond.

In other words, this is more of a brain fart than a brainstorm.

Re:Wow, just wow.... (4, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | about 10 years ago | (#10277999)

Something that occurred to me....

I remember when everyone said that USB put Linux at a serious disadvantage becuase of driver requirements. In the end, most USB devices work well on Linux and Linux had USB 2.0 support before Windows!

Unless Microsoft wants to patent these USB enhancements we can safely assume that Linux will support these enhancements. Otherwise, it is probably safe to assume that many device manufacturers will not impliment them. Either way, Linux is OK.

Re:Wow, just wow.... (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | about 10 years ago | (#10278091)

If MS patents any enhancements, they won't be part of any official USB specs, and few manufacturers will jump on them anyways.

They could come up with their own new connector and protocols, but that would be like saying that MSFT corrupted OpenGL with DirectX.

And it'd be stillborn anyways, USB is now ubiquitous. MSFT has no more power to redesign USB than they do the order of the power rails on the molex connectors of your PSU.

Everytime Cringley opens his mouth, you can hear his ass sucking wind.

Re:Wow, just wow.... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278188)

True regarding the USB 1.0/2.0 support, but when i read this article i cant help but think about older winmodems. When I first stared using linux (96/97) dialup was my only option and while there were non winmodem modems out there, they were definatly not in my price range.

i think if micro$oft gets these hardware vendors to require proprietary drives like they did with winmodems, then linux could see a serious hurt on the supportability side. At leats at firs, but i never really remember winmodem drivers for linux being any good, others have better experience?

though, when it comes right down to it, i also really doubt microsoft will ever loose support for older versions of USB. While the author of the article states lifespans on USB keyfobs are like 18 mo. i have a 256M that i always keep in my pocket, and unless it breaks, or all the files in the world start becoming > 256M, i really doubt i'll ever get rid of it.

Not the end of the world... (5, Insightful)

g-to-the-o-to-the-g (705721) | about 10 years ago | (#10277902)

"To make USB ports really secure we'll need a modified USB standard," says one of the geeks. "The USB device makers will love this because they can sell another billion devices. We'll change the BIOS and the OS so that older, non-serialized, devices can be used but just for read-only applications. So you can still hook-up your older digital camera and download pictures. But to upload any data you'll need a new-standard USB device. Not only will these devices be more secure, but we'll earn a royalty on every one."

As a gentooer, I'm not too concerned. This sounds like a replay of the sender-ID thing. I somehow doubt that manufacturers will gladly adopt this standard. Also, this doesn't make older USB devices stop working. I doubt it will be the end of Linux as we know it. Windows can support or not support whatever they want, it's not going to change Linux.

To me, this sounds more like Cringely being Cringely.

Re:Not the end of the world... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277949)

Windows can support or not support whatever they want, it's not going to change Linux.

Sure it will... if Microsoft supports something, I'm sure someone in the Linux world will copy it.

Re:Not the end of the world... (1)

flashbang (124262) | about 10 years ago | (#10277954)

No, I'm not really worried about this either - mainly becasue the next computer I buy is going to be from Apple. I'm not even going to try to figure out Longhorn.

Re:Not the end of the world... (3, Insightful)

carlos_benj (140796) | about 10 years ago | (#10277955)

And how does this make things "more secure"? Allowing me to download from a USB device vs. upload seems less secure. Do I already have a virus on my computer and don't want it to get to my older USB device? I guess it's not possible to download a virus from existing USB devices....

Re:Not the end of the world... (1)

carlos_benj (140796) | about 10 years ago | (#10278020)

Oops. Didn't realize that the quote was "fake" when I replied...

Re:Not the end of the world... (5, Funny)

Znork (31774) | about 10 years ago | (#10278174)

The idea is to prevent people from stealing corporate data via USB devices, as sources have noted that there has apparently been a huge upsurge in data smuggling by use of rectally insertable USB devices.

Now, some may say that there are other more practical ways of stealing data, like mailing it, ftp'ing it, dumping it over a http connection, reading it from a wlan or something, but as these things require a bit more thought than merely shoving the data up your arse, they are widely regarded as being unlikely security holes, so to speak. Others say that people have had access to cd's, floppy disks and printouts for a long time without data smuggling being a problem needing an industry-wide solution, but they apparently have not tried rectal insertion of these media.

So to nip this problem in the bud, we need a new USB standard. The only alternative would be supergluing every corporate employees arse shut to prevent this flow of intellectual property out from offices around the world.

Re:Not the end of the world... (4, Insightful)

Daniel Boisvert (143499) | about 10 years ago | (#10278007)

As a gentooer, I'm not too concerned. This sounds like a replay of the sender-ID thing. I somehow doubt that manufacturers will gladly adopt this standard. Also, this doesn't make older USB devices stop working. I doubt it will be the end of Linux as we know it. Windows can support or not support whatever they want, it's not going to change Linux.

This is entirely different than the Sender-ID thing, namely because Microsoft has HUGE influence over the hardware vendors, whereas their mail servers are only a (comparatively) small part of the market. With Sender-ID, MS can't afford to do their own thing and break interoperability with the rest of the world, because they're not a large-enough player. With PC hardware, they can and want to do just that, because it helps to ensure they retain their monopoly.

If anything will stop them in my opinion, it's that the PC hardware vendors will hold off on implementing their DRM plans, knowing how much consumers hate them. Either that, or the first few chipsets sold with this DRM crap will fail miserably in the market, and hardware vendors will scrap it outright (much like the V-Chip crap with TV's awhile back).

To me, this sounds more like Cringely being Cringely.

Well, that much I can agree with. ;)

Re:Not the end of the world... (3, Insightful)

Slime-dogg (120473) | about 10 years ago | (#10278125)


Fortunately, most MS hardware specs fail in the marketplace.

.NET isn't even able to save the pocketPC.

v-chip (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | about 10 years ago | (#10278142)

Every TV, 13" or larger, sold in the USA, has a v-chip. It's an FCC regulation and mandate. The vendors don't have a choice about it.

Re:v-chip (1)

bhima (46039) | about 10 years ago | (#10278219)

They do!? Does it work?! Does anyone us them?!

They must be off by default...

Re:Not the end of the world... (5, Insightful)

clifyt (11768) | about 10 years ago | (#10278150)

" (much like the V-Chip crap with TV's awhile back)."

Huh? VChips are in most TVs today.

Its a great piece of helps the gov't allow parents to restrict what the parents want the kids to watch without having to pass draconian laws censoring the general public. I would never use it, but it it keeps even one religious freak from screaming about whats on the airwaves and getting in my congressmans face about it, I'm all for it.

As a side note, I was trying to get an older TV of mine working as my current one just died last week...I was surprised when I went through the setup that it had the Vchip in it because I never messed with it. Simple to use and it doesn't screw with anything else. Thats the way technology should be...I have no problems with folks deciding what they want to watch in their own homes...

one billion linux users can't be wrong! (2, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | about 10 years ago | (#10278154)

"Microsoft has HUGE influence over the hardware vendors"

Yeah, like:

  • Apple
  • IBM
  • Sun
  • oh, and:
  • Taiwan
  • and:
  • China

Re:Not the end of the world... (2, Insightful)

thorjansen (88330) | about 10 years ago | (#10278016)

As a gentooer, I'm not too concerned. This sounds like a replay of the sender-ID thing.

It's not the same thing at all. Sender-ID is at the software level, and USB is hardware.

I somehow doubt that manufacturers will gladly adopt this standard.

Which would be a radical departure from what they've done in the past, if it happens as you think it will.

Also, this doesn't make older USB devices stop working.

If you read the article through, you'd have learned that older devices will become READ-ONLY. Meaning, you can download from the device to the PC, but not the other way. Not "stop working", but it sure cuts their functionality down quite a bit.

I doubt it will be the end of Linux as we know it. Windows can support or not support whatever they want, it's not going to change Linux.

No, it won't be the end of Linux. But if Microsoft is successful at DRM'ing more and more hardware, they will be able to lock out not only Linux users from using these devices, but also any other OS not approved (meaning, paid their license fees) by Microsoft.

Re:Not the end of the world... (3, Informative)

g-to-the-o-to-the-g (705721) | about 10 years ago | (#10278088)

If you read the article through, you'd have learned that older devices will become READ-ONLY. Meaning, you can download from the device to the PC, but not the other way. Not "stop working", but it sure cuts their functionality down quite a bit.

Uhm....asumming Linux doesn't adopt this lame thing, it won't matter. Older devices will only suffer from read-only'age on windows. MS's evil business practices haven't been getting the warmest of welcomes lately. They can only go on for so long bullying everyone else and building on their monopoly. Eventually MS is going to be reduced significantly, it's just a matter of when.

Re:Not the end of the world... (4, Insightful)

borroff (267566) | about 10 years ago | (#10278053)

Cringely will keep being Cringely as long as Microsoft keeps being Microsoft. The computer industry could put Cringe out to pasture just being limiting themselves to boneheaded errors instead of predatory behavior. It's possible that he overstates the case, but we've gotten so jaded by other examples of this type of behavior that he may have to make a stink just to cut through the pervasive air of apathy.

Sure, you can say that Microsoft is just trying to maximize their profit, but I would submit that in a perfect world, they would be doing that by offering a better product, rather than locking out the competition. Is it conceivable that they could have added these features in such a way that didn't make USB incompatible? Absolutely. And I bet everyone got a big laugh at that one.

Linux will adapt (5, Insightful)

Tyndmyr (811713) | about 10 years ago | (#10277916)

Now, before this becomes flooded with people screaming against the latest evilness from MS, I'd like to say that, while I haven't actually seen the lisence, I highly doubt it prohibits someone making an alternative driver for the USB port. Certainly, some bright coders will be working on this. I'm just not seeing this as a major problem for linux, though I do agree that MS does dominate hardware standards.

Re:Linux will adapt (4, Insightful)

GreyPoopon (411036) | about 10 years ago | (#10278059)

Somebody mod the parent up, or please post a reason why this is any more a Linux kill than any other new piece of hardware. I'm trying to find some information about why somebody couldn't just create a Linux driver to interact with the new USB devices. Is there a patent at work here that I'm not aware of?

DMCA (4, Informative)

GoMMiX (748510) | about 10 years ago | (#10278155)


And copyrights...

Watch, MS will copyright some key element that allows the OS to interface with the USB devices - prohibiting anyone from making compatible software.

On top of that, if you simply bypass their key element - it's copyright circumvention because it bypasses that security check or whatever that MS implemented.

I'm not saying that's the way it's going to be - but it's a possibility.

In the end, though, it doesn't matter what MS tries to do - they're not going to cripple FOSS. The nastier they get, the less people care for their company and products. That means more people to FOSS and other competition - and less political influence for Microsoft to continue out it's battle. (Not that I want to see MS gone, but perhaps when they're not the biggest kid on the playground they'll have to behave themselves a bit more.)

SPAM (0)

xsupergr0verx (758121) | about 10 years ago | (#10277918)


Ho ho ho, I can't resist.

Probably a good time to switch (1)

samberdoo (812366) | about 10 years ago | (#10277926)

Maybe firewire or something like it should be the alternative. If there is a royalty penalty for each USB port or device there may be a point where some motherboard manufacturers offer usb as an option.

Enhancements (2, Interesting)

Zorilla (791636) | about 10 years ago | (#10277929)

If enhancements were to be made to USB, information on the specs would have to be provided as well, and hopefully not just to those who fork up the dough for it. In this case, saying it would hurt Linux would be saying that the development for an enhanced USB interface would take a really long time. I doubt it would be true if support was important enough. Was supporting USB 1.1 and 2.0 in Linux really a pain at all when it came out?

I hate this guy (5, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | about 10 years ago | (#10277940)

There IS a new USB standard in the works and it is at the heart of Microsoft's sudden interest in USB security. Co-developed with Intel, the new USB standard specifically excludes Linux and probably OS X devices as well. I'm told the Intel folks are quite embarrassed about this, but feel powerless to do anything about it.

Links? Can you back this up with any actual facts?

Show me the new published standard that "specifically excludes linux and probably OS/X".

And if he's so sure it specifically excludes Linux, why is he doubtful about OS/X?

I call bullshit and flamebait on this entire article.

MSFT isn't scared of linux on the desktop, they have absolutely no reason to be.

Re:I hate this guy (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278050)

MSFT isn't scared of linux on the desktop

That's not what Ballmer has been saying [] recently.

Re:I hate this guy (1)

stratjakt (596332) | about 10 years ago | (#10278109)

And yet, it is what this guy [] is saying.

Re:I hate this guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278110)

I'm sorry, where does it say "Desktop" in that article?

I think the grandparent post was right on. MS has no reason to fear Linux on the desktop.
And basing an argument on a "leaked memo" is abit shakey anyway.

Re:I hate this guy (5, Insightful)

CatGrep (707480) | about 10 years ago | (#10278184)

And if he's so sure it specifically excludes Linux, why is he doubtful about OS/X?

In the case of OSX, Apple may be able to pay a licensing fee to get the new USB hardware standard included in their machines. Apple controls it's own hardware and though they make heavy use of Open Source (Darwin, FreeBSD) they have no problem with paying licensing fees if they're reasonable.

MSFT isn't scared of linux on the desktop, they have absolutely no reason to be.

And they had no reason to be scared of losing the browser wars either (which they had assumed they had won), but lately IE has been losing quite a lot of market share to the likes of FireFox, Mozilla and Opera (but especially FireFox).

Re:I hate this guy (2, Insightful)

seamelt (631353) | about 10 years ago | (#10278215)

What you should probably consider is that Cringely has been doing this sort of thing (writing columns about and predicting future trends and strategies in the computer industry) for a very long time. He has a lot of people who are "in the know" about emerging technologies and trends and when he says things like this he is correct maybe not most of the time but enough that people give head to what he says. Go back in his archives and check out his predictions for the coming year and see how many things he is right about. I have no particular love for Cringley either (mostly the tinge of egoism in every column) but you gotta give it to the guy, he tends to be right.

Is it bad... (4, Funny)

revery (456516) | about 10 years ago | (#10277947)

Is it bad that after reading this article, my sole reaction was to run through our building yelling "USB belt buckles!!" like some sort of geek version of Paul Revere...

I'm so embarrassed....


Was it the sheep climbing onto the altar, or the cattle lowing to be slain,
or the Son of God hanging dead and bloodied on a cross that told me this was a world condemned, but loved and bought with blood.

Re:Is it bad... (1)

imroy (755) | about 10 years ago | (#10278135)

You know you might be a redneck when...

you're asked for ID and you show your belt buckle.
Somehow takes on a new meaning...!

Some first-hand insight would be good (5, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | about 10 years ago | (#10277963)

Cringely and his sources seem to believe that Longhorn's USB device restrictions will be based on the concept of "trusted devices", that the hardware itself will have to know whether or not to let the USB host access it.

I don't see it that way. The implementation I envision is a "trusted user" approach, in which it is access rules defined in the computer's operating system that determine how USB devices can be used.

A flag in the Registry for each user. When a USB device is connected, depending on its value, the OS will give the user either full read/write access, read-only access, or no access, and will mount the USB volume accordingly.

Perhaps there are real advantages to the method Cringely believes MS will implement, but I don't see them.

Re:Some first-hand insight would be good (5, Insightful)

bmwm3nut (556681) | about 10 years ago | (#10278104)

but the hardware will treat all devices as "not trusted" unless the (microsoft) OS says "this user is trusted" open the device. the problem isn't that devices (or users) aren't trusted by the OS, it's that the hardware is enforcing the trust. and that to beable to talk to the hardware you'll need to license the protocol or something from microsoft, which will lock out open source/free solutions.

Re:Some first-hand insight would be good (1)

GMFTatsujin (239569) | about 10 years ago | (#10278231)

Already more than possible.

Define the USBDrives group. Write a USBFS script to create a /dev/usbdrive device when it detects a USB memory keychain based on the deviceid and other manufacturer information. Chown the device node to the usbdrives group. Set permissions as desired. Put users into usbdrives group.

Ta da!

And you don't even have to recombooble an existing hardware standard or re-purchase all your gear.

In *nix, of course.

Adding to the paranoia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277966)

In stores near you!! Soon!!

Random picks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10277968)

> Some companies disable the USB connectors on their PCs, plugging them with five minute epoxy or even with solder.

Solder to plug a USB connector? Damn...

> We'll change the BIOS and the OS so that older, non-serialized, devices can be used but just for read-only applications.

So how can commands be sent to the older devices?

Re:Random picks. (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | about 10 years ago | (#10278040)

So how can commands be sent to the older devices?

Cringely knows very little about computers or technology. If you read his articles, you'd see that. He's just a PBS windbag. Don't pay this dork any heed.

You think Apple is going to start shipping iPods with a USB interface that "specifically excludes OS/X"? Hell, as much as I think they're a waste of bucks, I'd be the first to agree that the iPod is the "killer app" of USB at home.

What a moron this guy is. 100% pure tinfoil hat speculation.

MSFT added an option to be able to disable USB ports as part of the security policy. The Xbox controller ports are merely USB ports that are shaped more like something you would expect to see on a console.

Bobby Blowhard needs to publish X words per month or he's fired. So he took 2 and 2 and came up with 6.

USB is, and always will be, an open spec. That's what the "U" is for - universal. MSFT can propose all the changes it wants, and the kernel hackers can go ahead and implement them.

Re:Random picks. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278169)

"So he took 2 and 2 and came up with 6."

Bah, that's just the new math.

Let x = y
x - y + y = y
x - y + y y
--------- = ---
(x - y) (x - y)
y y
1 + --- = ---
x-y x-y
1 = 0
Since 1 = 1
1 = 0
1 = 1
1 = 1
Summing both sides
3 = 2
2 + 2 = 3 + 3 = 6
Simple, really.

Not Practical (5, Interesting)

Timber_Z (777048) | about 10 years ago | (#10277971)

As big as Microsoft is, they can't simply make useless all usb drives out there with a flick of a switch, as the artical sugests.

More likly, Longhorn will by default allow standard behavior from usb devices.

If and only if the administrator of the OS flips a switch will the usb port be (Disabled / Read only / {Custom USB Writeable})

So while they may require a Longhorn only usb drive, in certain scenario's, regular ones should still work in most situations.

This is of course only conjecture, only time will tell for sure what will happen.

I usually find Cringely interesting, but this time (5, Insightful)

Assmasher (456699) | about 10 years ago | (#10277986)

...he's the one actually spreading FUD.

Given Microsoft's already tenuous relationship with the Department of Justice's anti-trust division, sure you don't think they would attempt to lock out Linux and OSX do you? They would get the hell sued out of them.

Second, what's to stop Apple or another hardware company from coming up with a different solution to the problem that works with Windows and therefore does not suffer from diminished market application?

Third, and here's where I get crazy, I believe that at some point in the next five years, Microsoft is going to produce Linux software (for crazy reasons that I'll keep to myself until they begin to sound less crazy.)

Re:I usually find Cringely interesting, but this t (4, Interesting)

Asprin (545477) | about 10 years ago | (#10278143)

I vote: not so crazy. I am of the opinion (and have been for a couple of years now) that they have a top-secret lab in an underground bunker where they are secretly working on a Windows desktop environment running on a Linux kernel, as well as Linux versions of Office and all their main applications.


That's what I'd be doing if I were them. They can afford to hedge their bets on this one if they are really as scared as everyone says they are. One of the serious advantages of FOSS platforms is because the up-front costs are so low, you can start development before you decide if you have a product or not.

Re:I usually find Cringely interesting, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278192)

Given Microsoft's already tenuous relationship with the Department of Justice's anti-trust division...

Tenuous? As in, MSFT can do whatever they want and will only get a pro-forma slap on the wrist?

MSFT has emasculated the Department of Justice's anti-trust division. MSFT has nothing to fear except maybe the European Union, who they're scrambling to subvert even now.

But USB is an open standard... (2, Interesting)

brucmack (572780) | about 10 years ago | (#10277992)

How are they making the open standard somehow Windows-only? Doesn't the fact that it is an open standard mean that someone can just put the support for the new standard into Linux and be done with it? Or does the new standard actually rely on some propriatary software from MS?

New USB Standard? (1)

Yokaze (70883) | about 10 years ago | (#10277998)

Why would one need a new USB standard to deny the use of USB-storage devices?

How about makeing "usbstor.sys" optional? I wouldn't even be too surprised, if one could actually removed it with some extra work manually.

I'm suspicious of this too... (4, Interesting)

Anita Coney (648748) | about 10 years ago | (#10278005)

I just don't get why USB hard drives are such a security risk. Any employee who wanted to steal a bunch of data is not going to be stopped by this. All he would have to do is open up his computer and borrow the HD for a weekend.

Heck, he could just email the data to himself at home!

And let's be serious, how many employees really have access to valuable and confidential information?!

When I first heard about this alleged security problem I immediately thought, what's Microsoft's real purpose? Cringely might be on the right track.

Re:I'm suspicious of this too... (1)

wizatcomputer (798648) | about 10 years ago | (#10278084)

Heck, he could just email the data to himself at home! Or, if you have a high-speed internet connection at home, FTP it to your house. Easy, and you don't have to have a huge e-mail account.

And let's be serious, how many employees really have access to valuable and confidential information?! Most of the people that have the valuable info value their high-paying job and corp bonuses. I doubt that they want to give away the information that keeps them well-paid!

Re:I'm suspicious of this too... (1)

michael.teter (811516) | about 10 years ago | (#10278086)

And let's be serious, how many employees really have access to valuable and confidential information?!

Perhaps large companies have a very clear, very draconian data access policy, but I'll bet that most small-med companies are not going far beyond isolating data per department. In other words, someone in my accounting department can walk away with some of our $ data on a 256MB device. Heck it's part of their job that they be able to read that data in the first place.

Re:I'm suspicious of this too... (2, Insightful)

Tyndmyr (811713) | about 10 years ago | (#10278208)

Some locations have armed guards, metal detectors, etc, for this type of thing. A hard drive is both larger and far more metallic than a USB drive is. CD-burners are easy...dont have them. Same with disk, tape, etc drives. Floppies don't hold much anyhow. External drives of any sort fail the same criteria as a hard drive would.

Any place that allows unrestricted access to email in conjunction with private material deserves to have it stolen...

USB devices are currently the second highest threat to infosec, only behind stupidity, IMO. What do I know about security? Im sure slashdot can track my IP if they're really curious.


igotmybfg (525391) | about 10 years ago | (#10278210)

For real. USB drives are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to security. There a hundred other ways that a motivated employee could steal valuable confidential data. And chances are that an employee high enough to have access to that kind of data in the first place is probably more interested in stealing the competition's data...

Intel (2, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | about 10 years ago | (#10278013)

PC companies build what Microsoft tells them to because doing otherwise risks having their hardware go uncertified, or even worse, simply not function with Windows. - I wonder what processors would MS software run if not Intel's, I don't completely understand how MS came into position to dictate its terms to the hardware manufacturer. I wonder how much time will it take MS to come up with their own processor and the rest of it (sort of like Apple but without IBM) maybe they MS will can even cooperate with Sun on this front.

In any case USB is definetely an important piece of hardware and ubiquitous at that. I don't believe that the home users will care about the security of their USB devices more than they care about security of their browsers and email clients. If the new standard is released it maybe picked up by very security minded folks, like the security services, but MS will have tough time convincing most companies to switch to yet another hardware platform (at least within the next 5 years.)

Blogger meet Tin Foil Hat .... Tin Foil Hat ... (4, Insightful)

telstar (236404) | about 10 years ago | (#10278017)

I expect USB ports to disappear about as fast as 3.5" floppy drives....

Re:Blogger meet Tin Foil Hat .... Tin Foil Hat ... (1)

Silver Sloth (770927) | about 10 years ago | (#10278051)

Which took over fifteen years to disappear.

Memo to self: (1)

CdBee (742846) | about 10 years ago | (#10278024)

Start buying Firewire peripherals. My Mac supports them already, an extra PCI card is all my PC will need....

Not a technical issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278032)

This is not a technical, it's a legislative, legal issue. The US government should be stepping in.
It will also be interesting to see that how governments of other nations (including China) who flirt with OpenSource will react to this.

USB security conerns (2, Insightful)

methodic (253493) | about 10 years ago | (#10278034)

If Microsoft does have the muscle to push this as a standard (which hopefully will fail) -- I'd imagine most motherboard companies will have the 2 "onboard" USB slots the Microsoft way, but also include a USB header with their motherboards that work the same ole-fashioned way. Think about it -- a lot of these MoBo places are Taiwan shops that absolutely adore Linux -- they would be shooting themselves in the foot too if they went down the Microsoft road.

Can we define abusive monopoly? (4, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | about 10 years ago | (#10278046)

One such abuse that I came away with was using your monopoly status to influence other industries. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems to kind of fit as I'm sure other people are writing at this very moment.

I can almost see this initiative getting spat upon basically because one of the brilliant and golden features of USB was the ability to use the device "universally" not only between like computers, but also unlike computers such as Macintosh. If Apple had any say in the development of USB standards, they should be gearing up their legal engines right about now because this "Universal Serial Bus"s claim to fame is now being threatened.

As far as making it also as a "Linux hurter/killer" I'm not quite so sure about that. It seems to me that we can use Windows drivers WITHOUT worrying about patent infringement issues. It is being done with various Wireless cards and stuff, so why not enhance what's already been done and link-n-load the Windows drivers for the new hardware right into our systems? I think this approach barely presents a hiccup for the next few years unless MS rewrites the kernels of every OS they are currently supporting and rumos has it Win98 will be extended due to popular demand AGAIN.

I think a lot can be prevented with protest and also with clear and active development in the area of using Wine and Windows drivers with Linux. They'll see how futile their effort really is and it makes me wonder if they really think this stuff through....

Deja Vu (1, Insightful)

smartin (942) | about 10 years ago | (#10278048)

This is esentially the same thing as yesterdays story [] .
It seems that M$ is starting to focus on a strategy, one which should be familiar to most people: Use the monopoly under the guise of improving security/fighting piracy to crush the competition.

This really doesn't make any sense. (1)

AntiOrganic (650691) | about 10 years ago | (#10278060)

I can't fathom why this idea even exists. All these USB devices show up as USB Mass Storage Devices, right? So why not just add a feature to the OS to allow USB Mass Storage Devices to be installed by administrators only, or not at all, that can be set via a Group Policy template? There's no problem here that requires a hardware solution.

Thank god for firewire (1)

acomj (20611) | about 10 years ago | (#10278069)

See. Firewire might yet be popular for things besides camcorders!

We Have Six Years (5, Insightful)

hirschma (187820) | about 10 years ago | (#10278072)

This is all well and good, but it isn't going to happen any time soon. But, it is very likely to happen, given today's reality.

See, XP wasn't as big a success as Microsoft anticipated. Right now, about half the PCs out there are still running older versions of Windows. The majority of those are running Windows 98 (!). The rest of running some form of XP. Yes, half the PCs sounds like a big success, but it doesn't ensure hegemony. No one is going to ship an XP only piece of hardware, today. Tomorrow, possibly.

Keep in mind, also, that this is about three years since XP appeared. Longhorn isn't going to install on any current machines, most likely.

Now, given this statistic, how long is it going to take for Longhorn to get to 50%? You'd best believe that product is going to be shipped, during the Longhorn period, that works on the last two version of Windows, - Win2k and XP. USB device producers aren't going to come up with new models of anything that won't work with the majority of computers out there. Well, maybe Microsoft will.

I'm guessing that it will take at least until 2010 before the majority of PCs have are Longhorn enabled. When that happens, it'll be a the beginning of a problem. Possibly longer if corps go kicking and screaming, which they will.

Non-MS computer enthusiasts/anti-DRM advocates have at least 6 years to get enough alternative desktops out there to prevent this. I hope that the commercial Linux distro makers and Apple are listening. They need market penetration _now_ to prevent eradication later. Or we'll see the end of personal computing as we know it next decade.

MSFT being scared of linux? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278075)

I agree that MS has dominated the hardware industry and this totally isn't a good thing -- however I don't think MSFT is as scared as everyone thinks they are. A lot of us use linux, do you HONESTLY believe it can replace windows for those non-savvy users? I've been using linux for years and there are still plenty of issues that I run into, leading me to dig around msg boards and newsgroups to find the answer or a patch. Do you honestly think your grandmother or boss is going to be able to do that?

I don't get it... (5, Insightful)

misleb (129952) | about 10 years ago | (#10278087)

Can someone explain to me why you can't just include access to USB devices as part of a user's policy in Windows? In linux, you can easily set permissions on devices just like files. Why does there need to be some hardware level standard? Is it so people can't boot off the USB/CD/floppy and grab data that way? Seems like a losing battle to me. If someone has access to data at work, there are any number of ways to get it offsite. Somehow I doubt the convenience of USB will encourage people to steal data that they wouldn't otherwise take. There are any number of security issues that should be considered before USB storage.

Why wasn't this an issue years ago (when data were small) with floppy drives? Couldn't people also burn sensitive data to CDs and take that home? Most PCs and Macs come with CD burning capabilities as a matter of course. Want to get the data offsite? Drop the CD/floppy into the mail and send it.

Then again, maybe USB storage is just that convenient and hard to detect. Still, it seems as though if someone has access to the data and wants to get it offsite, they'll find a way. Maybe USB devices will be the next "microfilm" of future spy/thriller movies.


Microsoft... security.... (2, Funny)

KD5YPT (714783) | about 10 years ago | (#10278101)

I see a lot of problem here...

No, more then a lot...

Microsoft isn't going to get away with this... (1)

Silverlancer (786390) | about 10 years ago | (#10278105)

Noticed how many Linux-excluding or "anti-piracy" things Microsoft proposes seem to disappear? This one will too. Ask the Justice Department for more details.

Re:Microsoft isn't going to get away with this... (1)

KD5YPT (714783) | about 10 years ago | (#10278139)

Hm... or the fact the Microsoft is afraid of hackers suddenly decided to get more nasty.

Virus/Worm >> "Let's see... today's instructions... copy this... send... copy that... send... copy me... send..."

Virus/Worm >> "Let's see... new instructions... copy this... send... copy me... send... repeat one hundred times... delete root directory..."

given the huge market (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | about 10 years ago | (#10278107)

for strange Japanese USB devices, I doubt this will happen.

Geez, talk about FUD.... (4, Insightful)

fzammett (255288) | about 10 years ago | (#10278129)

Look, we can all sit around all day and come up with conspiracy theories about how MS is trying to kill this competitor or that competitor... And some of the time those theories are even going to prove correct because, well, MS *is* exceptionally savy to the point of being bullies and even worse many times... But this article is nothing but FUD from someone on the OSS side of the fence. He might be right in the long-run, but for now it's just a glorified conspiracy theory.

The FUD flows both ways folks, let's not forget that. You think MS is the only one using dirty tricks? The OSS side has a massive contingent of zealots to go along with the truly gifted, intelligent, talented and insightful members of the community, and they many times have a much louder voice than the good ones. MS has plenty of legitimate flaws, but so too does the OSS community. The sooner we all come to that realization, the sooner we might be able to change the world.

This article isn't a good example of fulfilling that goal, indeed it's a good example of what we should be trying to avoid!

Conspiracy Theories... (1)

KimiDalamori (579444) | about 10 years ago | (#10278141)

Granted, I understand that M$ probably does do this. They almost need to in order to survive. but cringley's "dramatic reinactment" of MS employees was a little over-the-top. It sounds like a plot from a cheesy two-bit conspiracy movie. It's pretty hard to take these threats seriously when we're using this kind of hyperbole. I appreciate the content, but lament the delivery method....

Bias (5, Interesting)

RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) | about 10 years ago | (#10278146)

This story is ripe with bias. Microsoft isn't stupid or powerful enough to force everyone to abandon all of their USB devices.

That's why neither this nor NGSCP (Palladium) are of any concern.

Everyone wants to FUD about how Microsoft is going to make a BIOS that "locks out linux", or a USB standard that locks out old devices. It's not going to happen. 5 years from now, you're still going to be able to run Linux on your computer, and you're still going to be able to access your USB devices in Longhorn and Linux.

Now, certain devices - music players, primarily, will probably be "secure" (DRM encumbered). But you'll probably still be able to use them in Linux, so long as someone writes the drivers. The new Microsoft USB-spec is just a way for media players to confirm to the OS (and DRM framework) that they will obey the DRM restrictions.

It's pointless to debate this anyway. It hasn't happened yet. Remember back in 2001 when Slashdot was spreading FUD about Palladium? As it turns out, we can still run Linux on our computers, and we will be able to do so for the immediate future.

What about floppy disks? (2)

OrangeTide (124937) | about 10 years ago | (#10278152)

Wouldn't a floppy disk have posed the same problem years ago? Especially since data was a lot smaller back then and you could really fit all your customer data on a 360K double-sided double-density 5.25" floppy?

So basically Microsoft is just realizing a problem that is 30 years old? It's so easy to "hide" a floppy inside a notebook or calendar. The only solution back then was diskless workstations (which is something only Novell did back then, at least for x86).

Personally I have no use for some Windows machine that won't support USB 1.1 and 2.0. From the article it looks like MS is wildly considering not having USB support in Longhorn. And instead substituting something that isn't USB and defining it to be the "new" USB, even though it's not completely backwardly or forewardly compatible with "old" USB. Plain old Linux, MacOS X and Solaris will continue to support USB.

I don't really care if I will no longer be able to get some flakey $3 USB device, I'm fine with paying $30 for an equivalent device of higher quality. It's not like the super cheap commoditized USB devices work in anything but Windows. (and only older versions of windows, since the two-bit asian company isn't updating their buggy drivers)

Introducing: FireWire flash drives!!! (1)

lateralus_1024 (583730) | about 10 years ago | (#10278156)

$9.99* **

*After $90.00 Mail in Rebate.
** USB to Firewire adapter optional.

bye bye one PCI slot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278157)

So, im confused, even if MS do stop you using the built-in USB-"X" ports (and im not commenting on the idea, methodology or practicality of that) then whats to stop you buying a PCI card with USB ports on it, and just using them for all you legacy USB 1.0 to 2.0 devices under Linux etc?

Several different scenarios (5, Interesting)

moberry (756963) | about 10 years ago | (#10278166)

The consumer population will not go along with the idea of "sorry, your old device won't work. please buy a new one". Why do you think there are RS-232 ports on computers STILL, i havent seen a serial device in years. Two things could happen

  • MS does this, and everyone switches to firewire, or some other hot new standard
  • Manufacturers write drivers for there devices, and go on supporting them

IMHO, i think that manufacturers will just package generic USB drivers with there devices.

Re:Several different scenarios (1)

KD5YPT (714783) | about 10 years ago | (#10278213)

That would most likely be what the manufacture will do. And bundle with it the ability for admin access to activate said security feature.

Microsoft will die slowly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10278177)

.. if they keep this stupid moves coming.

An average (world wide) joe only cares about playing some games, seeing some pr0n, and little else on his pirated copy on Windows (of course). If MS stop them from continuing their daily routine they will have some serious pissed off users (that currently, allow MS to keep their monopoly). What if that users stop upgrading Windows or even move to Linux? Also if they are trully pissed off they will convert some closer friends too.

From now, every move seems a suicidal one.

This is how Microsoft sets back CS progress. (4, Insightful)

phkamp (524380) | about 10 years ago | (#10278189)

The problem here is that Microsoft is acting on a legitimate and actual problem which gives people headaches in the real world.

If they they attempt to implement a longhorn only solution, they will likely get so many people up in arms that it will never happen, and as a result another legitimate problem becomes taboo and remains unsolved.

We've seen this already more than once. Just think about harddisks with built in encryption.

I would LOVE for my bios to ask me for the password to my disk so that if somebody steals my laptop they don't get my data.

(Shameless plug: In particular I would love it if a sensible encryption was used, see f.)

Unfortunately, Microsoft tried to own the multimedia market by having harddisks with encryption where only _they_ had the keys.

Now nobody even dares discuss the idea and concept of encryption in the harddisk.

One taboo after the other...

Timescale helps here! (0, Troll)

cakefool (801210) | about 10 years ago | (#10278193)

[checks armour plating on tinfoil hat]

By the time this comes out, there could well be a user friendly linux distro as an alternative!

[waves bye bye to karma]

Alternate signature (1)

koehn (575405) | about 10 years ago | (#10278195)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but since USB is just a bus, wouldn't it be possible to make a storage device that announced its presence as something else, like a NIC or a printer, and then a custom driver let you upload to it?

I just cannot see this approach working at all, without securing the entire driver layer and limiting application I/O to the authenticated drivers.

Of source, then the BIOS has to load only authenticated OSes, which means that the digital signatures in the BIOS become the target of a massive, distributed keysearch to crack them so that you can load Linux onto the new machines. And once you can do that, you can patch the Windows install to load non-secure drivers.

And then we're back to square one.

He seems to count on MS being followed (5, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 10 years ago | (#10278207)

His entire argument hangs on the assumption that the tech industry will swallow the poisoned new USB hook line and sinker. Yet he himself points to several instances when the tech industry did not follow what the "ruler of the PC" said was to be done. The fact that compaq broke IBM-compatible by going to the 386 and all the bus standards IBM tried to introduce that failed.

Intel recently tried that rambus and failed. Motherboard makers knew their market and went against the leader. MS has tried soundcards and failed. People stuck to creative labs (soundblaster).

MS has tried to flex it muscles often enough and yet it rarely works and seems to be working less and less. Name a big PC company that is not doing linux however small. Do you really think MS likes that Dell ships linux machines?

If MS really had as much muscle as this guy seems to think then we wouldn't have had a fraction of the linux stories that we have had.

So hardware makers have not bowed to MS before (well not always) so why should they with USB? His scenario just doesn't make sense. You see there is the tiny little problem of people not upgrading their OS. Oh I am not talking about the /. people and their like. I am talking about the millions still running windows 98, according to MS own figures.

Say I make a new device and make it a requirement that you first have to upgrade your OS? Oh yeah that would work. Companies don't even like to say "Windows 98 or later" to avoid scaring away the 95 crowd. Exactly how many products do you see that only work with windows XP SP2? Do you remember how long things like joysticks and mice came with both USB and either a PS/2 or a gameport cable?

Also MS can not exclude old devices. If they could they would have ditced ISA support ages ago. They haven't. If longhorn suddenly wouldn't work with your old MP3 player you wouldn't buy a new one, you simply wouldn't upgrade.

What they can do is create a win-usb. Like those win-modems and win-printers that exist. Are they a threath? Well only if you care about the "my crap piece of cheap tech that everybody told me was crap but it was such a deal and now it doesn't work with linux it sucks" people.

If MS really plans to do it they would fail as they have failed as they and others have failed before when trying to control the PC.

The PC is free and there are to many players who have everything to loose by MS or anyone else gaining control.

After USB... (1)

JustNiz (692889) | about 10 years ago | (#10278234)

...then comes all the other ports and all forms of media...

It seems Gates is planning a world where Microsoft own and close the IBM-PC hardware spec.

Now is the time that us free-thinking individuals need to develop a GPL/opensource hardware platform as well as software.
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