Windows No – The Next Big Thing From Microsoft?

by Jorge Lopez, MCSE
August 27, 2002

In a surprise last-minute move that took many in the industry from behind, Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will be releasing the upcoming consumer version of its Windows XP operating system—previously known as Windows XP Media Center Personal Edition Professional Plus—under the greatly simplified and easier to market moniker “Windows No”. Microsoft claims the change was strictly for marketing purposes and was not in response to media criticism that the original name was too stodgy and cumbersome for a consumer product. 

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft released a “Gold” edition of Windows No to members of the Microsoft Developers Network, so that they may get a head-start on creating the killer applications MS hopes will drive widespread adoption of the new OS.

I have been a beta tester of the new OS for three months, and I can tell you without exaggeration that this release is going to be huge. The new features and tighter integration found in Windows No are nothing short of spectacular. This OS is amazing; a definite must-have for all MCSEs.

Let’s start with the name. “Windows No.” It rolls off the tongue a lot easier than “WinXP MC PEPP”, as we were calling it before. It’s a simple, elegant, intuitive name…much like the OS itself. I wasn’t exactly pleased with the original name, so I am thrilled they decided to change it to something snappier and more descriptive of the operating system’s positioning as the home PC successor to the "Windows Me" operating system. Whereas Windows Me was all about making the user comfortable with the computing experience, Windows No will be focused less on individuality and much more squarely on digital copyright protection and limiting what a user can see, hear and do. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer elaborated on the reason behind the change during Tuesday’s press conference:

" ‘Windows No’ is all about building on the previous ‘Windows Me’ brand and taking it in the direction that Microsoft wants it to go today. With built-in digital rights management, automatic updates, background reporting, detailed event logging, and tighter integration between the OS and critical components like Windows Media Player and Microsoft Office, ‘Windows No’ will enhance the user experience by protecting the rights of digital content providers and improve the trustworthiness of the Microsoft platform.” 

The move was pure genius on Microsoft’s part. The name “Windows Me” perhaps gave many users the mistaken impression that the computer and operating system were theirs, and that they were free to do whatever they wished with it. However, this was never the case, as Microsoft is trying to make clear with the recent name change. On your personal computer, Microsoft retains ownership of the Windows operating system, and under the terms of its new End User License Agreement, the computer hardware it runs on. You the user are just paying for the right to use it. Unless you behave according to the terms of use, you can lose that right regardless of whether or not you paid for the software. By clicking “Accept” when you turn on the computer for the first time, you agree to be legally bound by the terms of the license agreement and the acceptable use policy, both of which may change at any time without notice. This is exactly the way it should be. A computer isn’t some tool you buy to own like a toaster or a hammer that you can do whatever you please with. A computer is a tool that owns you. Microsoft, after being lax for far too long on the subject of digital rights protection, is finally using its EULA to tighten the leash around consumers’ necks. Not maliciously, of course, but more like the gentle correction of the choke chain we use on our dogs.

With the new Windows No, we are also seeing Microsoft begin to transition itself from a software company to a service company. When users install No for the first time, they will be greeted with an urgent request to sign up for Microsoft Passport, which will protect a user’s credit and bank card numbers by storing them on a secure Microsoft server. If the user dismisses the request by closing the box, Windows No will assume the user didn’t see the message and will helpfully display the message again every time he or she logs on. I’ve tried Passport and it’s an excellent service. You just enter all of your credit card numbers and account information, and once it is verified to be accurate, the message will go away. Not only does this definitively tie a user’s identity to an individual machine so a profile can be built based on web visits, purchases, and communications, it also guarantees the safety of your personal information as you now have all of your critical numbers in one place--a password-protected IIS server in Redmond--instead of scattered haphazardly around your home. The special bonus is that Microsoft only charges $2.99 a month for the service of storing this information; most of us spend fifty times that on coffee in a month so it's not really fair for anyone to complain.

Another benefit is that whenever Microsoft’s EULA changes or the Windows license expires, it can be renewed automatically by deducting credits from your passport account, which you’ll greatly prefer to Microsoft bothering you with legal notices or raiding your home to perform a software audit.

Windows No is a departure from previous operating systems that used Internet Explorer as the desktop shell. The shell of No consists of Windows Media Player 9, which will make it easier for Microsoft to push adoption of its secure Windows Media Player (.wma) audio format over the less secure, lower-quality mp3 format. This is going to be a welcome change to many longtime Microsoft System Administrators such as myself, as it will make it easier to protect our office networks from mp3 infections. It’s high time the industry as a whole moved away from the stone-age mp3 technology into something more robust with features that content providers will enjoy. A song recorded in mp3 format has many limitations; it can’t expire, it can’t prevent itself from being copied from device to device indefinitely, it can’t even execute scripts! The WMP format addresses all of these issues with copy protection, required expiration dates, and a powerful runtime environment that can execute both web and shell scripts on play. Since an mp3 can’t incorporate any of these secure technologies because the format is too primitive, as far as I’m concerned it is a virus and should be treated such--which is why I’m glad the new MS Antivirus technology built into No will detect and delete mp3s within seconds of them appearing on the computer’s hard drive.  It's like having a little cop right inside your computer.

A new requirement for the use of Windows No is an Internet connection. This is a further departure from previous MS operating systems, as prior to this an Internet connection was always optional. However, for Windows No to function properly, it must have the ability to “call home” often for important security patches and rights management updates. Windows No needs to check at least three times a day with Microsoft to verify that the license is intact and the user hasn’t modified the computer’s hardware in any way. If it cannot accomplish this task, the operating system will disable itself, preventing the user access to his or her files until Microsoft is provided a full and acceptable explanation via their Activation Hotline. The OS also uses the Internet connection to synchronize the system clock, which helps law enforcement pinpoint exactly when an illegal or infringing activity occurred on your machine.

When an operating system can detect unauthorized content, remove it from your system, inform law enforcement officials, and automatically levy a fine against your credit or checking account, all while you wash the dishes in the other room, that’s one degree of separation. That’s life with the new Windows. The operating system is still about a month away from being released to the public, but when it is, I have no doubt that Microsoft will have another big winner on its hands. In a time when many technology companies are having a very hard time bringing in any sort of money at all, Microsoft continues to amaze the industry with new and innovative ways to extract even more.

Jorge Lopez is a DeVry graduate with an MCSE certification and is currently working as a Windows LAN Administrator.

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