Microsoft .NET - Part 2

.NET Implementation

HailStorm

Above we have described a general specification for web services, and the tools provided for developers. But Microsoft is also busy putting flesh on these bones.

Consider the many applications and sites on the web which ask for personal information - e-commerce sites, for instance, take in credit card details, names, delivery addresses, etc. Usually one has to enter such information anew for each site, but it would be more efficient (if not necessarily more secure) if one could store all such information in a single place, and grant limited permissions to sites to access this information.

Microsoft's 'HailStorm' project, a web service dedicated to storing and controlling personal information, is designed to provide just such functionality. Using this service, a user's personal information gets stored on special Microsoft servers, with security measures built around existing Microsoft technologies like MS Passport. According to the Microsoft press release at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2001/mar01/03-19hailstorm.asp

Instead of concentrating around a specific device, application, service or network, HailStorm services are oriented around people. They give users control of their own data and information, protecting personal information and requiring the consent of the individual with respect to who can access the information, what they can do with it and how long they have that permission to do so.

Many of Microsoft's existing applications - like its messaging and email services - have been, or are being reworked to integrate with HailStorm.

Rights Management

Microsoft is currently putting a lot of effort into anti-piracy measures in two areas: firstly, for its own operating systems and office software; secondly, for digital media content (ie. music or video files). In each case the general form of the solution involves the production of digital licenses designed to work only on a particular computer, or for a particular user.

Undoubtedly the .NET platform will be useful in providing an infrastructure for the required flow of license requests, checks, and issues. But we can also speculate that an extension of .NET could allow much tighter control of copyrighted material. Given the amount of money and power at stake here, this might provide a strong reason for those who own the copyrighted material to promote .NET.

Thinking through the logic of licencing: digital licenses are beneficial to a copyright holder because they comprise a key under his control. The problem is that this control is lost once the key is issued. It is thus beneficial to the copyright holder to limit the power of each key; ideally, he would want to be able to limit the key to a precise number of copyings (in the context of media files, of playings).

But now, .NET promotes distributed applications. Suppose, then, that part of a distributed media-playing application was under the control of the copyright holder. For instance, online authentication from the copyright holder's web servers might be requested for each playing of a music file. This would give the copyright holder precisely the power to authorise or deny copyings on an individual level.

Software Leasing

It is interesting, finally, to note that Microsoft is now encouraging its corporate customers to move to a 'leasing' model, where copyright licenses are granted only for a limited time. This movement is not in itself driven by the .NET project, since it is possible to have either one without the other. However, it is illustrative of the 'software as a service' mindset driving the .NET vision.

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