Microsoft is Killing its Ebook Store and Why that’s Bad for You

Microsoft wants to take back all those ebooks you thought you bought. What does this mean in terms of SaaS and DRM?

You’ve just invested in software as a service (SaaS) by buying all sorts of ebooks from Microsoft. Yup. You really didn’t buy those books, though, and now that giant company wants them back. This isn’t the first time a large company has trashed a service and left their customers out to dry. There are some caveats. For example, if you made annotations in one or more ebooks, then you get an extra $25 credit.

I’ve been writing why digital rights management (DRM) is bad for a while now. It’s one reason my collection of ebooks doesn’t have any DRM. Unfortunately, there are few publishers that do this. One is Baen, but that’s only good if you happen to like their sci-fi/fantasy fare. I happen to like it—half of the 1246 books in my Calibre ebook managed library fall into that category. There are other sources, but that number is large because I have been doing this for decades. I also have hundreds of paperback books as well.

One might dismiss the closure of smaller, less-well-known ebook distributors as minor annoyances—Microsoft isn’t in this category. Could the even bigger players in the ebook market, Apple or Amazon, do the same thing? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Cloud “Burst”

However, the real point of this article is less about Microsoft’s turnaround and rather how DRM and SaaS can impact your development and deployment tools for the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the biggest “features” of the latest IoT services is the hardware root-of-trust (ROT) and the end-to-end security approach that ties everything to the cloud. Likewise, SaaS centralizes everything in the cloud. Shut down the cloud and nothing works. All resources are gone and anything you may have on hand, like hardware, software, or artifacts, are now useless.

The ability to do this legally is likely hidden in the license or contract associated with these services. Even if you know that this is the case, it’s not something you really want to live with when the central services are terminated. Google trashed all of the Revolv devices when it bought the company and terminated the associated service. The devices were useless without cloud support.

I have quite a few chunks of hardware and software that came with unlimited or promised “support forever” that are now essentially bricks. Most have since been discarded unless they could be hacked and reprogrammed or enabled. This is getting harder as more systems are ROTten.

One trend on the development side is putting software tools in the cloud. This makes it trivial for a user to get started and reduces management and update support of the provider. It also locks in users, as providers will likely do whatever they can to make it difficult to move any information off their platform to another.

So, keep this in mind as you buy (rent) your next ebook: Develop your next product or partner with a vendor that will be supplying a cloud server “forever.”

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