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Microsoft Releases Windows Rights Management Services

Microsoft released the final version of its Windows Rights Management Services add-on for Windows Server 2003 on Tuesday. RMS can be installed for free on licensed copies of Windows Server 2003, but organizations that plan to use the technology must pay for a special CAL that is layered on top of normal CALs.

Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s security business unit, formally launched RMS Tuesday in a keynote at the RSA Conference 2003, Europe, in Amsterdam.

While most debate about digital rights management involve the recording and movie industries, Microsoft’s RMS technology is aimed at corporations and other organizations looking to get some control over how sensitive internal documents are handled. In theory, an organization could use RMS to prevent users from forwarding, printing or copying and pasting text from a sensitive e-mail or document. The technology also allows an organization to time-bomb a document so that it cannot be viewed after a specified date. Organizations could also control who could open and view the document in the first place.

Obviously the technology can only serve as an obstacle, not a cure all. There is no way to stop employees from writing down the contents of a message, or transcribing it into a browser-based e-mail program or calling a colleague at a competitor and simply reading the information. But it could serve to prevent casual or unknowing forwarding of information that employees may not realize is sensitive.

RMS is one of several add-ons to Windows Server 2003 that Microsoft has delivered in beta or final form in the six months since the launch of the server operating system. Other add-on technologies include Windows SharePoint Services, and services for real-time communications.

To use RMS, an organization must have a major commitment to the Microsoft software stack. The RMS services must be loaded into Windows Server 2003. The server must belong to an Active Directory (Windows 2000 or later) infrastructure that it would use for authentication. The server must connect either to an MSDE database in small configurations or a SQL Server database for larger implementations. The database stores logs of all licensing activity, policies, configuration information for the rights management server and user credentials.

On the client side, the technology requires a component for Windows and an RMS-enabled application. Microsoft is making the Windows client download backward compatible with all versions back to and including Windows 98 Second Edition. In its own software, Microsoft has made four of its Office 2003 programs RMS-enabled – Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Later this year, Microsoft plans to release a Rights Management Add-on for Internet Explorer that will permit users without Office 2003 to view rights-protected documents.

Windows Rights Management Services CALS will start at $37 each, and the price goes down to $29 at the Select Licensing level, Microsoft officials say. That CAL sits on top of the normal Windows Server CAL. Microsoft is also making available an RMS External Connector license for about $18,000.

The RMS CAL is not covered by the Office 2003 license. Meanwhile, Office 2003 has varying levels of support for RMS (within Office the technology is called Office 2003 Information Rights Management). Users of the Office 2003 Professional suite can create and view rights-protected documents. Users of the Office 2003 Standard suite can only view rights-protected documents.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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