Trusted Computing: The good and the bad

Last week, a serious debate took place at the Trusted Conference in London, in the presence of Alan Cox, a lead Linux Kernel developer. The event was organised by another Linux aficionado, Eddie Bleasdale of Netproject.

With proponents and opponents of trusted computing in the conference hall, along with news of the new heavily anti-DRMed (Digital Rights Management) GPL 3.0 (General Public License) still in the air, it raised the prospect of a lively debate.

As part of the trusted computing debate, Pr. Ross Anderson, from the Cambridge University, put forward the idea that by 2008, users would be able to get free computers as long as they subscribe to an "Officeplan" scheme for around £15 per month.

This is not actually as far fetched as it might first sound. After all, the majority of people get their satellite/cable set top box or their broadband modems with the service they subscribe to, so why not computers?

Not so long ago, PeoplePC and Visa partnered to offer a brand new PC, unlimited Internet access, 24x7 customer service, and a three year warranty for under £15 a month.

And by 2008, large size HDTV compliant screens will be readily available and with the Xbox 3/PS4/Revolution2 on target to launch around the same period, getting a console to access the Internet and replace your computer is very real possibility.

Back in 2000, there was no DRM, no Trusted Computing and definitely no P2P networking. Pr. Anderson posited that DRM is this millennium's "proprietary platform", effectively locking customers into manufacturers' spreadsheets.

In the case of an Officeplan-type scheme, users would face the possibility of not being able run non-vetted software – so for example users would be restricted to using Microsoft desktop productivity applications. Think of those platform in the same light as game consoles and can see where this may lead.

Cox has the last word though as he points out, rightly, that Trusted Computing is a tool rather than a paradigm and is not Belzebuth in itself.