Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Improvements in Authentication Process to Allow Mac Users Access to Streaming Digital Content

Recently, the University Libraries began an ambitious project that holds great promise for increasing access to digital audio and video assets available in the Ball State University Digital Media Repository (http://libx.bsu.edu). This important new resource, which is a project of the University Libraries, offers rich and diverse digital resources for students, faculty, and others to use for teaching, learning, and research.

Access to audio and video content is an important service offered through the Digital Media Repository. Currently, the University Libraries utilize a Windows Media Services 9 system to stream much of the digital audio and video content that is part of the DMR. Unprotected content from the Windows Media platform is easily streamed to students and faculty using both Windows and Mac client systems. However, access to protected content is a problem for users of Mac systems.

Protected content are digital objects with access restrictions set to comply with copyright and intellectual property rights. This content is easily accessed from a Windows Media Player on Microsoft Windows computers. Mac systems, however, cannot complete the authentication process and persons are denied access to the protected content. Because the Digital Media Repository receives a large number of hits from Mac users from both on- and off-campus, this is a real problem for the University Libraries and our content partners.

In early February 2007, we decided to explore the possibility of solving this Mac access problem without changing the streaming technology we had adopted. We knew that we could adopt a different streaming technology to address this issue, yet we wanted to explore more fully options with our Windows Media Service 9 streaming solution.

Another reason we chose not to move away from our current Windows Media solution is that Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution holds promise. That is, the Windows Media DRM technology makes it possible to protect, deliver, and play individual, subscription, and promotional digital media content on computers, portable audio devices, Portable Media Center devices, or networked devices that are connected to an Internet protocol (IP) network.

Our research to solve this problem revealed that one reason Mac clients cannot authenticate to Windows Media Services 9 is incompatible authentication methods used by Windows and Mac systems. The Windows Media Services 9 system, for example, supports two types of authentication methods, Negotiate and Digest Authentication. The Mac systems support the Basic Authentication method. After further research and analysis, our conclusion was to resolve the problem by writing a server-side authentication plug-in for Windows Media Services 9. This is exactly what we have done over the past two months. That is, we have developed a plug-in, and we are now ready to beta test it in a production environment.

The plug-in, developed on a Virtual Server test environment in the University Libraries, is a server side component that uses Basic Authentication to provide Mac systems access to protected assets. It is a COM object written using VB.NET, the Microsoft Windows Media Services 9 SDK (Software Development Kit) and .NET Framework v1.1 architecture.

The plug-in, when enabled, will prompt Mac users for a Ball State computer username and password. The authentication process is accomplished by checking a user’s credential against the Windows domain (Active Directory). A nice feature is that it can also be modified to authenticate against any database, e.g. SQL Server, MySQL, etc. This plug-in is intended to operate alongside existing authentication methods currently in place.

The plug-in will allow protected content to be accessed using the Windows Media Player for Mac. We are continuing to investigate options for authenticating access to protected content from other Mac media players such as the QuickTime player with Flip4Mac and iTunes.

For more information, contact P. Budi Wibowo, Ball State University Libraries’ Head of Digital Libraries and Web Services, BWibowo@bsu.edu, (765) 285-8032.

This newsletter article first appeared in The Library Insider 5(5): 6; May 2007.

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