Microsoft plans Palladium demo in May

Microsoft Corp. in May plans to show early prototypes of computers using its Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) technology, a combination of new hardware and software that Microsoft says will boost PC security but that critics fear could be a scourge for user freedom.

At its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans, the company also plans to reveal more technical details of the nascent NGSCB technology, formerly code-named Palladium, Microsoft security development engineer Brandon Baker said yesterday.

Further details will be disclosed in October at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, when demonstrations of the security technology are also planned, Baker said. NGSCB will be included in a future version of Windows, possibly in the Windows XP successor, code-named Longhorn, which is scheduled for release in 2005, he said.

"We expect to be able to talk more about [development] progress and provide additional technical details first at WinHEC in May and then at the PDC later this year. We also hope to show very early prototypes of an NGSCB system, both software and hardware, at these events," Baker said in an interview via e-mail.

Microsoft plans to demonstrate NGSCB on "real hardware as opposed to emulators," Baker said, indicating that the technology has passed through the earliest development stages. Chip makers Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. are working with Microsoft on the technology, which Microsoft unveiled in mid-2002 (see story).

NGSCB includes a new software component for Windows called a "nexus" and a chip that can perform cryptographic operations called the Security Support Component. The technology creates a second operating environment within a PC that's intended to protect the system from malicious code by providing secure connections among applications, peripheral hardware, memory and storage.

For example, future antivirus applications could run in a secure execution environment to guarantee that the applications aren't corrupted, according to Microsoft.

However, NGSCB also enables strict digital rights management enforcement, and the security chip carries a unique security key, which could be used to identify the PC that uses the chip. Critics have argued that NGSCB could curtail users' ability to control their own PCs and could possibly remove fair-use rights applicable to digital music and movie files.

Microsoft maintains that NGSCB doesn't interfere with any program running in the regular Windows environment and doesn't give applications the power to do so. The company said it's working on a solution for the security key issue. Microsoft has also said it will make the source code of the Windows addition for NGSCB, the nexus, widely available for evaluation and validation by others.

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