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daily 10-23-2005 07:41 AM

Your valuable opinions would be appreciated
Hi people,

I am currently in my third year of my degree (I study graphic design), and am faced with the horrors of writing my final year dissertation (between 8000 and 12000 words).

I am posting here because this does relate to the open-source community. (I will try and get to the point as quick as I can)

[Sorry for the length of this post, I really need to make the background and perspective clear]

I am writing about graphic designers switching from proprietary software over to non-proprietary software, (basically assessing the viability of a complete opensource solution, in a commercial environment). A large part of my grade is based on my research, and discussing the subject with people in the field.

Please could you give my question some of your time, it is very important that I collect peoples opinions on the subject, I would genuinely appreciate your input.

The point I am at, in this epic essay, is that nobody uses opensource graphic applications (ie; GIMP, it isn't that bad!?) in design universities and colleges. This is because Adobe basically have the scene covered, pretty well I might add. Everyone uses Photoshop. My question is that; as GIMP becomes a realistic competitor, and is ported with varying degree's of success to other OS' how do the proprietary software vendors compete with OSS? They stand to lose allot of money if everyone starts dropping photoshop and running GIMP on Mac OS X or Windows. The fact is I am sure Adobe must have at least *considered* the fact that GIMP one day may be a serious competitor... (ha! the halloween documents spring to mind, although I'd give Adobe slightly more credit than microsoft).

I am asking how hard is it to secure an application, and prevent it from being pirated, what are the factors / difficulties involved in varying the difficulty in breaking / implementing software protection from a coder's perspective.

My suggestion is that Adobe make sure their software is relatively easy to pirate, EVERY student in my college has a copy of Photoshop, regardless of there ability or intelligence, even the ones that can't quite manage to dress themselves or do the Velcro up on their shoes, that is what they spend there entire education using and THAT is what they will either purchase when they hit the industry or encourage their employer to purchase if they don't already have it. Photoshop is what all the network administrators install, because it is what the industry uses and its what every student uses at home too, there is nothing to stop the admin installing GIMP and a few other alternatives but they simply will not won't waste the hard disk space. (their words not mine).

But what if Photoshop was pretty hard / almost impossible to copy? What if Adobe had a track record of hunting down pirated copies and running a legal rampage all over the planet... GIMP might just start to look pretty damn good in the eyes of the students, and if GIMP was what they were using at college, there's a good chance GIMP is what they might encourage the use of in the work place. With a much, much larger user-base development of GIMP would hit a new curve.

So? What do you think? is there anything in this? Are some proprietary software companies making sure they always have a fresh user base, by controlling how hard it is to pirate their wares? or are they simply doing their best, and they just can't work out how to stop people? Is making their software easily accessible, keeping them well ahead of the 'free software' competition?

I have no idea how hard it is, or what it takes to secure an application I hope someone here might have an opinion? Some soft-wares seem harder to pirate than others; Reason, Maya, Logic Platinum... etc...

Thank-you for any insight you may be able to offer me... .. .


PS: As part of my dissertation I have written about the history of opensource, 4000+ words, if there is anyone who may be able to discuss the subject with me, via email, or chat client I would be EXTREMELY grateful for your time. I have of course already done the writing, I would just like to discuss some of the opinions my research has raised. (Stallmans 'free software' vs Open-source, for example).

MensaWater 10-23-2005 08:51 AM

Asking people here for their opinions is much like asking a wolf you meet to eat you - its likely to happen whether you want it or not. :D

Anyway my thoughts:
I've been dealing with "proprietary software" since the mid 80s. Back then there were many methods designed to "copy protect" software and almost as soon as one came up with a new way someone else came up with a way to get around it. In fact there was a company called Transec (not sure if they're still around or not) that made a product called MasterKey or something like that which was specifically designed to make copies (for archival purposes only of course :) ) of the most popular commercial apps of the day that worked quite well.

Most vendors eventually went away from copy protecting towards keying so at least if they DID find an illegal copy they'd have more of a chance to tracing it back to its source (sort a like a "patient zero" concept from disease control).

So based on THAT alone I'd say it is nearly impossible to truly copy protect software to prevent piracy. The industry has now gone more towards hardening laws regarding piracy and reporting (the SPA has a hot line to report piracy for example). They even have made "intellectual property" a major focus of our diplomacy with countries like India and China that are seen as largely indifferent to piracy and had some success. (Of course if it were TRULY "intellectual property" corporations wouldn't be able to have BS clauses about how anything you dream up while in their employ even if not related to your job belongs to them - but I digress.)

So the above deals with the "why don't vendors better protect themselves".

However your argument has another flaw that being in college may not be apparent to you and that is that many vendors actually allow free copies of their software for educational usage. I suspect the reasoning is likely what you've already suggested - if one gets used to using it in college then one is less likely to move on to something else.

Microsoft pretty much took over the office productivity market by essentially giving away Excel, Word and Access as "bundles" with new computers and locking manufactures into contracts requiring it. Even though products like Lotus 123, WordPerfect and Dbase/Paradox were far superior in my mind and were dominant in their respective markets they couldn't compete against such an onslaught. Stuff like this still occurs now - The EU recently forced MS to agree to quit shipping Windows Media Player because most users wouldn't switch to Realplayer even though some think it a superior product simply because they would think why bother.

Adobe has done some smart things. They charge for Acrobat writer but give away Acrobat reader. This essentially gave them the desktop publishing market because anyone who was doing it professionally would buy the writer knowing that they'd have no problem with standards for end users of their products because they could be told to download the free reader. I don't know much about graphics design stuff but doubt the people that made Acrobat a standard will lose much ground in any market they choose (unless MS wants it because MS has deeper pockets).

Even OSS has resistance. Most people just don't want to learn new software and a lot of the newbie question I see here boil down to "why doesn't it work like MS-Windows"? Marketing has a lot to do with sheep mentality. Ever wonder why manufacturers say things like "millions and millions served"? Its because there is a concept called "the bandwagon" where people have actually been found more likely to buy a product because they think others do and don't want to get left out.

I'm curiously torn about MS. On the one hand I like the OSS model but being an American I sometimes can't help but think the EU is picking on it because it is American. The funny thing is that since it was discovered MS was putting hidden tags in Word documents a lot of foreign governments have embraced Linux and are trying to develop official versions of it so they don't have to worry what kind of big brother stuff MS has put in its products.

daily 10-23-2005 09:16 AM

Thank-you for taking the time to write such a concise response, I am looking for as many varied responses as I can find, you have given me allot to think about (and with a deadline looming, its just in time), I did realise that many software companies provided educational versions, Adobe CS2 is still somewhere in the region of 200.00 / 300.00, for the educational version, and, although this is a great discount, your average student won't buy it. (of the thousand ish students at my college, only a handful have purchased it, and that was because they were doing commercial work) Anything over 10 quid is a bit steep for us! :) Taking into account that it is SOO easy to obtain a copy it would seem that this is a *calculated* loss by Adobe, they KNOW they will get their money later... .. . In the mean time, we are all using PS instead of GIMP. I really am open to the fact that I am wrong about this, and am attempting to remain as neutral / objective as I can on the subject, I have no agenda for my final conclusions, Can anyone blow this theory out of the water?

again, thank-you for your contribution you have made allot of valuable points.

usaf_sp 10-29-2005 03:06 PM

Pirates have in the past ensured the survival of Software Vendors by making particular formats (*.doc, *.pdf, etc) popular. If a particular piece of software is widely used (either legitimately or not) the popularity ensures the survival of the company. The reason why Microsoft did not go after the casual pirate in the past is due largely to the concept that by using their products you ensure another will use them as well. Most people are not pirates and do pay a lot of money for license fees.

OSS is a larger threat to these vendors than pirates. When you opt for an OSS version, you totally REPLACE the software of these vendors. If enough people do it, then those vendors become irrelevant and thus unprofitable. Copy protections such as SafeDisc are VERY effective in preventing people from copying the original, and there is no reliable way to circumvent this protection (people claim to be able to do so, but usually they end up making coasters out of blank cdroms). Microsoft Genuine Windows program is likely to succeed in closing the pirate gap by denying necessary patches to invalid installs.

Why is it now that these vendors are so zealous about pirates? Simple: money and politics. To prevent the doomsday event (OSS becoming hugely popular) from happening, it is critical to legally lock technologies up through patents and "intellectual property" rights. You do this by first hunting down and prosecuting pirates creating a legal precedence. Then you strengthen the software patent laws along with the concept of "intellectual property" rights. After accomplishing this and using the precedence created by the prosecution of pirates, you prosecute the OSS community and other companies similarly.

To directly answer your question about the dificulty of protecting applications. It is very easy!. Microsoft uses product keys in addition to the Genuine Windows program (key check online for updates). SafeDisc writes defective/weak sectors on a disc that can not be duplicated by a CDRom writer without extreme dificulty (too many factors to get into). All other copy protections reliant on encryption methods, secret data files, secret keys are very easy to circumvent given enough time and effort (failure of security through obfuscation). It is best to use a combination of hardware, keys and remote checking to stop piracy. Most companies do not invest so much money into this because pirates serve their purpose (not all togeter bad for the company either). The largest organizations that do or will invest in anti-piracy technology: Microsoft, Macromedia, RIAA, MPAA, etc. These companies are trying to push to change world laws to suit them better.

BTW: I use linux, so I do not need to pirate. Harrrrghh Maties!

daily 10-29-2005 06:16 PM

OK thank-you that's definitely an interesting view, which will require a little research on my part in order to clarify a few things (I did not know about the microsoft genuine windows programme). Im interested in the point you made about encryption being easy to get round. Basically what you are saying is that it is not economically viable to prevent people copying software?

It would seem difficult to prove that companies like Adobe benefit from piracy... Although they do. I see it every day at university, of the thousands of students using pirate copies, a large majority will go on to purchase, or at least work on legit copies. Because that's what they have used for the last three years of their degree opensource wont even get a look in.

Whilst I'm here, does anyone have an opinion on opensource vs 'free software' (as in freedom) I have done a lot of research on the subject recently, and the last ten years look a little messy, I would love to hear from anyone that remembers the beginnings of the opensource movement. the OSI have an interesting time line of events, and stallman (from what I have read on his site) didn't/doesn't seem so pleased with how things changed...

Thanks for everyone's time... .. .

usaf_sp 10-29-2005 09:29 PM

I would not say the the cost of protecting software is prohibitive for large companies. The SafeDisc and Genuine Windows Program cost a lot, is it worth it to protect the software? Depends on what you want to accomplish. The danger for software companies is not the pirates, but OSS and Linux. Those two being FREE (as in freedom and in some cases money) have the potential to make Microsoft and friends totally irrelevent if enough people adopt OSS and Linux. Many countries (as in governments) are sponsoring the OSS movement as well as several large non software based corporations.

Another factor to consider: The cost of current Microsoft Licenses for companies can be in the tens of thousands. Could other companies benefit from Linux or OSS and in turn offer cheaper products by cutting that overhead? Did you know Palm, Playstation 3 and several HP computers will come with Linux and other OSS software pre-installed? Could it be that Microsoft is getting too expensive to be profitable for these other companies?

daily 10-30-2005 07:29 AM

thats a good point... .. .

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