A lot of discussion online... Both Dan Gilmor and Doc Searls have posted about a new patent granted to Microsoft for a "Digital rights management operating system"... an operating system that would protect rights-managed data from being accessed by untrusted (i.e. non-Microsoft) software. Both seem to see this as an ominous threat in the future and that Microsoft will start implementing this into their software.
Actually they've done it already and just didn't make a big deal of it. It's called Microsoft's Secure Audio Path, which makes sure that the MP3s you're playing are authorized - and played only using the Windows Media Player.
As a Microsoft representative said "The Secure Audio Pathway is a component of Windows, but only works with Windows Media technology in order to keep the system truly secure .... At this point, we don't know whether that will change. There are other forms of complexity and security risks if we start adding in other solutions to our system." In other words, their operating system is designed specifically not to allow people to use certain filetypes and formats with other pieces of software and even "insecure" pieces of hardware.
In my opinion, this is clearly anti-competitive, in that it will undermine competition, stifle innovation, and start turning the file formats that we currently use into something that might as as well be proprietary to Microsoft. It will even undermine other operating systems, in that it could create platform-specific content that doesn't play on Linux, MacOS, etc. To top things off, the very act of them having this patent seems to allow Microsoft to prevent other OS's from creating methods of creating other solutions that would protect content creators, while not being software or platform specific.
According to Microsoft, once the market share for Windows Media Player is sufficiently large (i.e. bundling has eroded the market share of RealPlayer, WinAmp, etc.), content companies (i.e. the music and movie industry) will create content that is secure - authorized for use just on Microsoft's Media Player. In other words, you will get sites like Napster distributing only royalty-paid MP3s... and those MP3s will play ONLY using Microsoft's software. Similar things could also happen with video, of course.
This is really only one step away from blocking all other MP3's from playing, which is the other aspect of how a digital rights management operating system will work - you'll think you are using a computer that doesn't have some sort of content blocking system in place... until it does. That is why the ability of operating systems like XP to transparently update themselves is so insidious, in that it will get people to buy into something they wouldn't support otherwise.
So, where do you want to go today... is it where Microsoft wants to take you?!