Monday, December 09, 2002

Hey: Microsoft say something and all of a sudden it's a fact

There's much of interest in Robert X Cringely's response to the not-actually-Microsoft's Darknet report and conclusion that you can't stop peer to peer network fileswapping. The most interesting part is what the X stands for - Xavier? Xylophone? Surely not Xander?

His actual arguments are as puzzling, if not as absorbing. He doesn't actually appear to have read the report he's filing about, as he seems to think the team concluded that P2P will be unstoppable because it's reached a "critical mass" (actually, what they concluded was that a system which was secure would be unattractive to consumers, who'd be tempted to the dark side instead - a totally different motivation).

Anyway, it doesn't alter their vision of the future - one where movies, games and videos zing back and forth through the communications networks of the worlds.

Cringely faces this future square-on, firstly by reminding us what it is movie moguls and record labels actually do which, it turns out, is invest millions in creation of the cultural artifacts - thanks for reminding us, X, we keep forgetting its not just all about stuffing the work experience girl full of coke and rancid cock.

"How" wails Cringely "will P2P networks pay millions of dollars to make movies?" Hmmm. I've spoken to my old English teacher and we suspect this might be a rhetorical flourish. But Cringely goes ahead and answers it anyway, to s-p-e-l-l it out for the back of the class - probably none. So, he concludes, people will still go to the cinema because people like to see movies and so people won't share movies if it hurts the industry.

Excuse me while I laugh my head off. See, I don't imagine that P2P will bring the end of cinema, either, but for totally different reasons - that most people, offered the chance of the Proper Product or a pirate version, will go for the real thing. The analogy is the way that, even although you can pick up versions of the classic novels for a quid, the full-price versions still do good business, because they're just nicer to have. Furthermore, I can't really imagine anyone who would go to the trouble of buying Babe II: Pig In The City from a bloke in the pub would stop for a second and think "Hey - am I going to be harming the chance of a sequel here?"

Cringely then trips over his feet - apparently, because films are expensive to make, there's no problem, but because records and articles are cheap to make, there is. He then launches into a laboured attempt to show us what happens next by drawing on the history of oil in Kuwait. (One company offered to do the research work for its big rival who held the monopoly to extract oil in Kuwait, and then managed to spend twenty years not finding any oil.) From this, he concludes, the record and publishing companies will set up a P2P network, tell everyone it's better and they'll have to pay, only it'll be rubbish so everyone winds up using a system they control that doesn't work very well. This is useless. The analogy doesn't work anyway because there's no way the internet and P2P can be compared with tightly controlled geographic territory - so if Sony turned up and said "Hey, guys, we've set up a filesharing service for you to use, for a small fee" everyone would say "Really?" and carry on with the free service they've already got. In effect, Cringeley has completely misunderstood the sort-of-Microsoft report. They're not merely saying "there's always going to be peer to peer swapping"; the whole point is they say:

you can build secure, swift, rights-managed networks until there's no more silicon left on the beach; people will always choose the unsecured option.

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