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01.18.12

Microsoft Tries to Spin Anti-Linux UEFI Measures, Ubuntu Tablets Possibly Affected

Posted in Antitrust, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 12:56 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft wants the only keys to the hardware

Hand with keys

Summary: An accumulation of articles about Microsoft’s anti-competitive UEFI moves and responses to these

UEFI has been a hot subject this week. Ever since Glyn Moody published his findings and conclusions the debate has been rekindled.

Jeff of Bodhi Linux thinks further:

I wrote a post late last year when all the news first started being posted (pretty much everywhere) about the Windows 8 “secure boot” support. Well folks, the open source news media is at it again – Microsoft has announced they are doing exactly what we thought they would – they are implementing secure boot on Windows 8 ARM devices.

[...]

Do these people have any idea how many Linux based ARM devices don’t allow dual booting? Do they have any idea how many Linux based ARM devices exist, were even if you can dual boot them they lack hardware functionality in alternative operating systems due to closed source drivers?

We pointed out just the other day that Microsoft is a non-starter in this area. But Microsoft is historically a non-starter in all areas; it wasn’t until Microsoft cheated with secret exclusionary deals and sometimes bribes that the company managed to marginalise competition.

According to Michael Larabel, this is a “big problem” for Linux because:

Matthew Garrett, the Red Hat developer commonly working on power management and UEFI/BIOS matters for Linux, has a new blog post related to UEFI Secure Boot. This latest posting is simply entitled Why UEFI secure boot is difficult for Linux.

From this post from Matthew Garrett we learn why it’s technically difficult:

I wrote about the technical details of supporting the UEFI secure boot specification with Linux. Despite me pretty clearly saying that this was ignoring issues of licensing and key distribution and the like, people are now using it to claim that Linux could support secure boot with minimal effort. In a sense, they’re right. The technical implementation details are fairly straightforward. But they’re not the difficult bit.

Joe Brockmeier writes about the latest UEFI débâcle. He says that Microsoft insists on not disabling UEFI:

Remember last year when questions arose about Microsoft’s policies on UEFI secure boot on Windows 8? Microsoft’s response, or lack thereof, was that “OEMs are free to choose” how or whether to enable turning off secure boot on systems shipping Windows 8. It appears, however, OEMs may not be as free to choose if they’re shipping ARM hardware.

Here is another new take:

Microsoft was quick to hit back at such claims, stating categorically that OEMs would provide buyers with the ability to disable the UEFI Secure Boot mode for use with non-signed operating systems. Sadly, it appears that the company missed one vital point from its statement: the fact that ARM-based systems are excluded.

According to the company’s latest certification requirements document for Windows 8, while non-ARM systems – traditional desktops and laptops, in other words – will allow a ‘custom’ mode to be selected that prevents UEFI Secure Boot from blocking third-party unsigned code, the ARM build – for tablets and low-power laptops – must have this feature removed if manufacturers want to be able to put the Windows logo on their products.

These excuses for Microsoft are unconvincing and some wonder if these practices from Microsoft “killed” Ubuntu tablets:

Did Microsoft Just Kill Ubuntu Tablets?

[...]

There is no doubt that Canonical is looking at the ARM based hardware for its tablets. But Microsoft seemed to have nipped Ubuntu’s Tablet in the bud. The company tweaked its Windows Hardware Certification Requirements to effectively ban most alternative operating systems on ARM-based devices that ship with Windows 8.

Microsoft’s booster Peter Bright spins this in Microsoft’s favour and Microsoft's Bott is again pretending that UEFI is not a problem. Sam Dean, who previously recited the lies from Bott, now says that his “stance toward Linux users is questionable” and adds

Thus far, there is no official response from Microsoft on the issue, but the Linux lock-out debate is back in new form.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols remarks on the spin from Bott as follows:

I wrote recently about Microsoft trying to block any other operating system from running on Windows 8 ARM-powered devices . While Ed Bott think that seeing this as an attack on Linux and other operating systems is FUD, I don’t think that’s the point.

I don’t see Linux being attacked by this move. I see Linux supporters being annoyed at it–I know I am–but attacked, afraid? No.

Sure as Bott writes “The Secure Boot requirements apply only to OEMs who sell an ARM-based device and Windows 8 as a complete package.” and that “If you disable Secure Boot on a Windows 8 ARM tablet, you have effectively bricked it.” So, yes you can take this as attack on people who want to switch operating systems, but it’s 2012. Now, if Microsoft was trying this trick with x86 PCs, it would be a different story, but Microsoft has backed off from that position. So, is really it that important to Linux that Microsoft is trying to keep it off Windows 8 ARM devices?

No, I don’t think so. Today Microsoft can’t dictate terms to the computer industry they way they once did. In the 1990s, Microsoft could call up an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and tell them what they could or couldn’t ship on their PCs, how much they would pay for the privilege, and they could take it or die.

That was then. This is now. While the U.S. courts found in 2001 that “Microsoft had a monopoly in the market for Intel-compatible personal computer operating systems,” the company was only slapped on the wrist. It might have been better for Microsoft in the long run if the courts had insisted that the company be broken up. As it was, Microsoft continued with business as usual. But, the world was shifting under Microsoft’s feet and even now the company hasn’t catch up with those changes.

The Register is meanwhile writing about the x86 tablets that never seem to fly:

m Taiwan’s computer manufacturers: lower the price of Windows 8 tablet components and software or the devices will be so expensive that consumers won’t want them.

Claiming that both Microsoft and Intel have rejected calls to drop their prices, Asian moles say that means Windows 8 tablets could cost as much as $899 (£586) before sales tax when they go on sale later this year, DigiTimes reports.

That is too expensive to sell much and Pogson says “Android/Linux on ARM is looking better all the time and there is still the option of GNU/Linux on everything if prices really do matter.”

This is why Microsoft wants to block it. As another article puts it;

There\s been some controversy since September of last year. It seems that Microsoft, while unsure if it’s intentional or not, is going to make it quite difficult for people to install Linux on a computer that comes with Windows 8.

Basically, it comes down to a process called UEFI secure booting. Hardware makers must have it enabled in order to qualify for a “Designed For Windows 8″ logo. The technology prevents operating systems from booting that are not signed by a trusted certificate authority.

This means that in order for Linux to be installed on a “Designed For Windows 8″ PC, one would have to figure out a workaround in order to make it happen and that means your choice of what to install, may be quite limited.

Companies need to just reject Vista 8 and stick with what’s becoming market leader (Android/Linux).

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