Many people are now convinced that the future of recording lies predominantly in software rather than hardware. Admittedly, there are still some situations where dedicated hardware is more effective, especially where it is necessary to record a great number of tracks at one time, but in many instances the computer route is now the better choice in terms of facilities versus cost. And now that viable moving-fader control surfaces are starting to appear, complaints about the user interface and complexity of computer systems are becoming less valid.
With our increasing dependence upon software, however, it soon becomes evident that the fate of our virtual studio world lies in the hands of the very small number of companies (Steinberg, Emagic, MOTU, Cakewalk and Digidesign) who make the major recording applications, supported by a greater number of satellite developers producing plug-ins. If some disaster should afflict these companies, the repercussions in the project-studio recording world would be enormous, yet surely the current extent of software piracy must pose a serious threat to the economical stability of any software-based company?
We all know that using software that we haven t obtained legitimately is wrong, but for some people the appeal of getting something for nothing is too great to resist, which is why software designers are resorting to more powerful means of copy protection. But rather than seeing this as an intrusion on our rights , we should welcome it — because if they can reduce piracy, these companies will be able to dedicate more of their resources to bringing us the software we want at a price we can afford. Given the revenue that is being leached away by piracy, is there any wonder that bug-fixes and upgrades are less frequent than perhaps some of us would like? At least one major player is about to unveil a new copy-protection system that uses military grade, multi-level encryption to thwart hackers, and perhaps the designers of other packages and of plug-ins will also be able to take advantage of more robust systems.
However, if such systems are successful, I hope that the companies in question do indeed use the additional revenue to offer more attractive prices to legitimate users, and to accelerate their bug-fix programmes. And if defeating piracy results in a doubling of sales, which isn t too wild a speculation, perhaps we can then expect a modest price drop as well as more frequent upgrades? Furthermore, we should expect, and in some cases demand, that copy-protection systems are not unduly intrusive or vulnerable. For example, at least one company is still supplying software with key floppy-disk protection for use on computers where floppy drives have been obsolete for two or three years! Similarly, master CD-ROMs (which I prefer because of their robustness) should not demand to be reinserted every week or two, but should ask to be presented at more reasonable intervals. I also have an aversion to challenge and response systems, as they inhibit your freedom to move software from one computer to another, and if the maker of your software went out of business, you'd have no way to re-authorise software you had legitimately bought. For these reasons, I feel that uncopyable CD-ROMs and dongles are the best systems for the user.
Ultimately our future in recording is inexorably linked with the viability of these companies, so it is in our own interest not to cheat them of their income.
Paul White Editor