Mac Musings

DRM on Macintel: Does Apple Trust You?

Daniel Knight - 2005.08.11

Don't worry, Apple still trusts you - although you might wonder about that if you've read some of the diatribes published over the past week.

What's the Fuss?

It seems that Apple's OS X-on-Intel developer systems have a Trusted Computing Platform (TCP) chip on the motherboard, and based on that several online pundits have proclaimed the end of computing as we know it. Claims go from OS X being hardwired to a specific motherboard to the RIAA and MPAA snooping your hard drive to your files actually being locked so they can't be used on another computer.

It's all speculation, and it's driven quite a wave of panic through the Mac community.

Don't worry, Apple still trusts you. Remember, this is the company that has never required you to enter a license code or register your operating system before you can use it. This is the company whose Claris division asked for a serial number on new software installs but never required one.

This is also the company that sells a US$129 operating system and a US$199 five-user family pack. Compare that with the retail price of Microsoft Windows XP, either the home or pro version. They trust you not to steal their software.

And this is the company that created FairPlay digital restrictions managment (DRM) for tracks sold via their iTunes Music Store. FairPlay doesn't lock your purchased tunes to a single computer - you can install and listen to your purchased music and books on three different Macs. And you can put it on as many iPods as you want to. And you can burn multiple CDs for your car stereo, Discman, whatever.

So why the paranoia? Apple is not Microsoft.

TCP and Macintel

Why, then, is the TCP chip on the Macintel motherboards?

The first reason is that these are off-the-shelf Intel motherboards, and that's one chip they put on this motherboard. Intel is really pushing DRM for future computer designs - and with good reason. That future includes video downloads, and the movie studios want a high level of control over the use of their content.

The second reason, and this is just an educated guess, is that Apple wanted to "lock down" the prerelease developer systems to keep OS X for Intel from being distributed on the Internet and widely installed on existing Windows PCs. After all, this is a prerelease developer build of OS X on a prerelease hardware platform. It's not tweaked for prime time yet.

Okay, the hackers have apparently defeated Apple's protection schemes and now have the Intel version of OS X running on a variety of computers, but it took them two months to get there. Not only that, but Apple has no obligation to support these installations, so if their video cards, printers, scanners, and other hardware aren't supported, they're simply out of luck.

Apple has not stated that production Macintel computers will include hardware DRM, although that's very likely if iTMS is ever going to sell video online.

I can't imagine Apple going so far as to lock OS X to a particular motherboard, let alone lock your own data files so they'll only work on your computer - something at least one pundit has proclaimed as the future and a good reason to ditch the Mac now. (Does he trust Microsoft more than Apple?)

When it comes right down to it, TCP might be one of the compelling reasons Apple chose to make the switch to Intel processors. The movie studios are demanding a very high level of DRM, and I'm pretty sure Apple wants to add movies to iTMS as broadband becomes more widely available and studios see a future for digital distribution.

Don't worry. Apple still trusts you.