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Gates Chats Up DRM, Web Services

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect said the move to Web services could ease the Internet's security woes and that digital rights management can balance out piracy.

During a chat in the San Francisco Bay Area Friday for a series of meet-and-greets at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Bill Gates also said the fight to stop file-swapping online is a lost cause.

"You can't intercede," he said. The trick, he added, is to use digital rights management technologies to maintain equilibrium between digital sales and piracy.

Gates implied that industry groups like the Recording Industry Association of America should ease up on their battles against copyright infringement.

"It all has to do with how easy and attractive you make it to buy things legitimately," he said. "Music companies still don't make it easy. You can't migrate between devices, and digital movies aren't out there broadly. There will be an equilibrium of stolen and paid for." By not making it easy to buy and consume digital content, the industry is affecting that equilibrium. He said Microsoft tools had driven legitimate music licensing up 5 percent of music used online, calling that "good equilibrium."

Gates said that while Microsoft has and will continue to work with the industry to recognize and maintain DRM protection, "we will not be the enforcers."

Music and movie downloads aside, Gates said there's a clear need for DRM for such sensitive information as tax records or medical information for consumers and confidential business information.

He admitted that Microsoft had been caught off guard by the intensity of network attacks and cracks, even as the company underestimated user complacency.

"We had the notion that if we put up a dialog box saying, 'This might be dangerous, think about it,' people would think about it. But they got so many legitimate enclosures that they'd click okay without any thought at all." Therefore, filtering had to move back to the server infrastructure. "We were naive about the social engineering," he said.

Ultimately, he believes, security will come through biometric authentication or smart cards, along with a change to basic Internet protocols. "Whether we lay security on top or change some of the underpinnings deserves more discussion that it's gotten. Changing the very protocols could give us a stronger foundation," he said.

Gates said a combination of Web services and IP security protocols will go a long way toward diminishing network security breaches.

IPsec will let computers verify where a request comes from, while Web services enable a machine to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to provide information. "We need to move security from a firewall approach back down to the individual machine," Gates said. "We think Web services gives us a reasonable way to get there."

Finally, he pooh-poohed the idea that Linux was a serious competitive threat. "The shift of Unix share to Linux has been dramatic," he said. "Linux will wipe a lot of Unix stuff down to very small numbers; then Linux and Windows will be the two big numbers. Microsoft has had competitors in the past," he added. "It's a good thing we have museums to document that."