alt.embedded

Borders Bankruptcy, DRM and SaaS

Could your library of ebooks go away if your e-reader dies? If your books are linked to the e-reader by DRM (digital rights management) copy protection then that is a possiblity. It is also a good reason to get rid of or avoid DRM if possible.

Borders is bankrupt and closing their brick and mortar stores. The website is still up and running and may survive. Kobo was providing Borders e-readers and is still around. In fact, Kobo's home page is giving you a 1 in 10 chance to win $500 if you move your Border's eBooks to the Kobo Library.

Borders did things differently than Amazon with its Kindle and Barnes and Noble with its Nook and NookColor. Amazon and Barnes and Noble provide their own hardware in addition to selling ebooks. All of these vendors use DRM with their ebooks and have come up with interesting alternatives to sharing books.

The Nook and NookColor use the EPUB format. The Kindle supports AWZ and MOBI formats. The formats can incorporate DRM but that is not required. The AWZ format can be linked to a specific device so it is possible to download an ebook from Amazon to a PC and then copy it to a matching Kindle. The file can only be used only by the matching Kindle.

DRM does not have to be a fact of life even with ebooks. There are a few publishers that sell their books without any DRM. None. Nada. Zilch.

Two I frequent are Baen and O'Reilly. Baen publishes science fiction. O'Reilly publishes technical books like those about computer programming.

The advantage of non-DRM books is the ability to keep your own backups and to use the books on any device you own. It is possible to give away non-DRM books but that tends to be less likely than some people think. Audio files these days lack DRM and that is a thriving business. Distribution and management of these files is more important to consumers. DRM just gets in the way of regular use.

There are a number of free tools that can remove DRM from most ebooks. Many are even integrated into Calibre, an ebook management system. I highly recommend Calibre. It supports plug-ins. It's free although it pays to donate to the project.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

So what do ebooks and DRM have to do with Software as a Service (SaaS)?

It is a matter of control. SaaS is a good idea and very useful. Essentially it puts the program in the hands of the developers/deployers and provides almost unlimited access via the Internet. SaaS is being used for everything from sales force management to sharing your favorite photos. Yes, websites like Facebook can be considered SaaS.

One trend I have been following is SaaS for hardware and software developers. It ranges from MoMinis smartphone development platform (see Smartphone Gaming Platform Includes Distribution) to DebugLive's remote debugging support (see DebugLive Delivers Debugging Online).

There are significant advantages to this approach. Start up is fast and often just a download of an app or applet for a web browser. Services are provided on a monthly basis and scalable in a number of ways such as the number of developers using the system. MoMinis even handles distribution including financial transactions for the final product.

The downside is the tie-in to the SaaS supplier. What happens if they go away? This could be due to bankruptcy but there are other events that can occur such as the supplier being purchased. Licensing and contracts cover the details but what happens if you don't read the fine print?

This is important because an embedded design must often support products for a decade or more. If the designs were developed using SaaS then ten years from now a developer may need to make changes thereby requiring the SaaS support. It must also be compatible, if not the same, as the service at the time the product was deployed. Backward compatibility is nice but we all know how a minor difference can cause major headaches.

Some systems may employ DRM in the service or the resulting data. Source code may not be in text form. It could be in a custom, encrypted format. Unlikely but possible. Like DRM'ed ebooks, even an unencrypted SaaS file is useless if the service no longer exists or is inaccessible.

SaaS is often pushed as a less expensive alternative. That is often true in the short term but support for ten years often requires a ten year subscription. Your mileage may vary but it is unlikely to be cheap. Possibly cheaper than having a dozen programmers using a system but often not free.

SaaS has other implications with respect to embedded developers and I will be getting around to commenting on those in the future. For now, DRM and contracts should be enough to keep everyone concerned.

TAGS: Dev Tools
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