Archive for February, 2010

Why Has Virtualization Not Encouraged Piracy?

Is it a lack of interest, or technical limitations?

Like many of you that surf the web, I find, that there is no way to avoid three things on the internet, the first obvious thing is sexual content, it is just everywhere. Search for anything, the most innocent thing in the world as a subject, and someone has associated it with sex. Virtualization included, Virtual Girl for example, is just one variant of a theme, if you care to notice it. The second thing you cannot avoid is advertising of some type, often sex is what is being advertised of course, so they go hand in hand, ah, bad association, sorry. The remaining item is some type of notification that what is on screen is owned by someone, somehow, somewhere. Trademarks, Copyright symbols, etc. abound. No matter how obvious it is, that a given web site owns something, it is still stamped or branded beyond reason, from straight-forward text, to embedded, encrypted, patterns, that the human eye cannot process, the need for humans to own something that does not really exist, is significant, just as the piracy reality on the internet to ignore legal ownership abounds.

Piracy on the internet is significant, or at least the offer to benefit from piracy is almost everywhere. This is not an argument about creative rights versus free access, so if that is your expectation, stop reading now. Piracy is stealing. Nor is this blog entry about sex, advertising, or sex and advertising, as such, or even the greater problem of piracy, but rather the observation that there is a significant lack of piracy within the virtualization space compared to other digital theft methods that takes place now on the internet. It is an interesting question to ruminate on…

Virtual machines are transportable, compact if using thin-disking or thin-partitioning, they would seem to be ripe for the picking! With virtualization machine players, such as VMware Player, one would think that piracy of appliances would be off the charts. Why do we not see some shady character on the street corner hawking appliances in similar manner to the frequency of replication and distribution as with DVDs? Why do we not see various Warez or Appz sites stating over and over… Hey, don’t just pirate a game, pirate the entire system that runs the game!? Maybe we need a VM player that is just as easy to use as a DVD player? No? Are there some unique barriers to appliance pirates?

With the growth of VDI, and the enhancement of virtual machines to support more processor power, more memory, and even better video graphic processor emulation, one would think that at the very least video game duplication would be threatened by virtual machines running functional video games, right? Well, maybe, but the personal computing based gaming market has been hit hard by other factors, including the dedicated console market. Of course PC based gaming suffers from piracy like crazy. But is the classic console version alone a sufficient barrier, not to virtualization that I can see!

Digging a bit deeper, maybe it is the virtualization technology alone that is slowing the piracy of virtual appliances? Virtualization was not cheap and easy, no matter what anyone says for the first 5 or so years that it gained momentum in enterprise datacenters. There are pirated versions of VMware Workstation out there, but with VMware Player being free, why bother. There are Video Game Console emulators that are gaining popularity, as Coin-Op emulators such as MAME have done, and some emulators have never seen commercial reality or public distribution, such as the fabled and rumored Connectix PS2 emulator that Sony may have purchased before significant people ever saw it? Oh, wait, that was pirated for a short while was it not? Oops!

True or not, PS2, or even PS3 emulation in a virtual appliance has yet to appear and take the world by storm, same could be said of the Xbox or Xbox360, what emulators that exist, just have not taken off with millions of copies downloaded? Is it because the lawyers are that good? That the legal system is just that good? This may change soon. There is just too much interest in making it happen? I sense it is too tempting a target now that typical hardware is sufficient to handle it. Moreover, I suspect the Wii will be the last console to be hacked and emulated, why? Face it, 14 year-old male hackers, are not into the typical Wii game. Regardless of the marketing and advertising, 14 year old males are into sex, not pretty fluffy cartoon characters, well, not unless they have boobs like the wife of Roger Rabbit! And don’t even tempt me to discuss, biometric mechanical devices, which could be connected to a 3 dimensional Wii feedback enabled controller? Just the suggestion of that might give people the wrong idea. Never mind the movie Surrogates, or various articles in the late 1950s that suggested the theme for the movie Surrogates. As soon as the interface is sufficient, it will happen.

If the real issue has been the slow progress of computational power, and graphic image capacity, over the last 4 or so years, for example VDI supporting multiple display screens was slow to materialize, and mobile devices to adapt or leverage virtualization, need more visual real estate? Then we need virtual monitors, or 3d projectors to come up in quality and capability. First it was memory and processor power, and then graphic adapter emulation, but those issues for the most part are history. Even good old KVM can do a far job of playing a video game in a virtual instance if you work at it a bit, so the dedicated console space should not feel all that safe.

So the technical limitations of the past are gone, other than the virtual real estate issue. When the typical desktop is now approaching a quad-core as the default processor, VT-x, VT-d, chipset support, etc. is there just awaiting to be leveraged? I ask again, why are we not expecting virtualization piracy to not take off, to balloon into a monster similar to bittorrent, eDonkey or other P2P solutions? Never mind, F2F and DarkNets like popularity for piracy of appliances? Only one barrier, remains, that of interest! Yes, I said interest.

Case in point on how interest drives piracy, not technology, the last Star Trek Movie was the most pirated movie in history according to various bittorrent subculture tracking columns, blogs, and experts. Because years ago, someone thought it would be interesting to create bittorrent. Moreover, Avatar and I am not taking about the kid that is the Last Air Bender, but the Avatar movie set on Pandora, that is breaking all the theater attendance records? A movie that has unreal computational scope and deep achieved, to establish eye candy almost beyond belief, I suspect will be the most pirated film ever. Even the 3d variant of the film will be pirated beyond rationale expectation. Why? And I am sorry Hollywood moguls, but it will be pirated in very high quality video and audio, not some half-assed camcorder method, where the sound is bad or worse out of sync, by sophisticated professionals generating a superior quality result, as has been done with many other films, DVD releases, etc. But I digress, why does this piracy happen? Because it is popular, because it is interesting to do things, and motivated self interest is a very powerful motive. Or has everyone forgotten their basic microeconomics course?

Virtualization based appliances, are no different. Even embedded system apps, such as on the iPhone, are at risk for future extensive piracy. As the greater demand goes up, so will the interest go up for pirates to do their thing, that pesky motive self interest! Has history not proven this out, over and over? Pirates always pirate things that are interesting, and if the piracy is profitable at some point? Well, that just is more incentive, to rip of the man, right?

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