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11.11.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
What is ...Microsoft’s Palladium?

Palladium is the popular name for Microsoft’s next-generation “secure” operating platform. Perhaps because of controversy associated with the code name, the company now refers to it as “NGSCB,” for Microsoft’s “Next Generation Secure Computing Base.”

Either way, it’s not clear exactly what the term means. That’s by design or perhaps because Microsoft doesn’t fully know itself. The company has been vague other than to describe it as a new hardware-based security system for a future generation of its Windows PCs.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has made a lot of noise lately about making security via hardware ID an integral part of the Windows PC platform. If all goes to plan—and that’s not always the case with Microsoft—this new hardware security is likely to emerge as some form of Palladium.

The company said that Palladium is not digital rights management (DRM), but is a very useful base for DRM systems. The idea began as a way to protect music content, but has since expanded to include protection of everything from entertainment assets to personal documents and e-mail.

When combined with a new generation of PC hardware and applications, Microsoft has said the new security features “will give individuals and groups of users greater data security, personal privacy, and system integrity. In addition, Palladium will offer enterprise customers significant new benefits for network security and content protection.”

Needless to say, Microsoft’s critics contend Palladium is not about protecting PC users, but about protecting the rights of corporate content owners as Microsoft tries to expand the PC into an entertainment platform. Some descriptions of the technology give an eerie big brother quality.

Newsweek has reported that Palladium “knows who you are (we don’t know how)” and “it knows who you’re dealing with, so it verifies the origin of incomings, and decides what is allowed to run on your computer.” Most observers predict there will some kind of user ID built into the chip and it will be designed to work with a new generation of “trusted” Palladium applications.

But do computer users want to trust their security to Microsoft? Windows architect Jim Allchin has been quoted as saying he has “a hard time imagining that businesses wouldn’t want this.” Others suspect another Microsoft monopoly in the making by noting that for Palladium to work, all other systems are dependent on Microsoft. Such trust will not be an easy achievement.

For more information visit www.microsoft.com.

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