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Microsoft moves forward on DRM

The software giant releases a Windows add-on supporting new digital rights management technology and sets prices for DRM server products.

Microsoft moved forward on its digital rights management strategy this week, releasing the first of several Windows add-ons associated with the technology and revealing pricing on its server software for corporate rights management.

A key part of the company's strategy involves limiting access to digital files ranging from office memos to software applications.

Primary components of the plan include Windows Rights Management Services (WRMS), server software that will manage access to corporate documents, and new Information Rights Management tools included in Office 2003, the forthcoming update of the company's widespread productivity package.

The software giant also has spoken of broader plans for building "next-generation secure computing base" technology, formerly known as Palladium, into a range of products.

One of the first publicly available components in the rights management strategy is the Windows Rights Management Client, a free Windows add-on Microsoft released for download earlier this week.

The client will be necessary for viewing any documents or files that tie into Windows Rights Management Services, including secure documents created in Office 2003. Versions of the client are available for the XP, Me, 98SE and 2000 versions of Windows and Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft also is working on several other desktop Windows Rights Management tools, including an add-on for its Internet Explorer Web browser that will allow people without Office 2003 to read secured documents. The browser plug-in is available in beta form now, with a final version expected around the time Office 2003 launches next month.

Microsoft also revealed its pricing strategy this week for Windows Rights Management Services, the server software that will work in conjunction with the Windows Server 2003 operating system to track privileges for secured files.

The software itself will be free for Windows Server 2003 users to install, but customers will have to pay for a client access license for every user who needs to access files protected by WRMS. Individual licenses will cost $37 per user, or $185 for a pack of five licenses. An "external connector license" that allows blanket access for people outside a corporate network to access secured documents will cost $18,066.

Matt Rosoff, an analyst for research firm Directions on Microsoft, said the client access fees are a bit of a surprise, as offering free access to the WRMS could have been a way for Microsoft boost slow-building sales for Windows Server 2003.

"We thought they'd want to use this to seed the market for Windows Server 2003," he said. "They seem to have reasoned that the departments that really want to protect their information are going to be willing to pay the price."