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Microsoft's Quiet War Against GNU/Linux on Motherboards

Predatory EULA on chip

One exciting recent bit of news is all about Asustek extending the reach of Splashtop and putting it on pretty much every motherboard. This means that tens of millions of PCs are expected to have Linux installed down at the core, essentially (yet arguably) running it as the 'default' operating system.

As rudimentary as Splashtop may be at the moment, this could be the start of something greater that will be extended and improved over time. Splashtop also had its kernel patches released to the public (according to Phoronix), so other hardware makers are likely to follow suit. Phoenix has already found itself on a similar boat and Phoenix' ubiquity is nothing to sneeze at.

In yesterday's news, The Inquirer made the following important observation:

Asus to ship all motherboards with Linux



[...]

And, for many casual computer users who make use of web-based applications exclusively, Splashtop Linux might be all the operating system they ever need.


This becomes truer as time goes by. An increasing number of applications become Web-based. Not everyone would use them, but some might. Some will.

Splashtop receives a lot of publicity at the moment, but it's arguably small potatoes compared to Phoenix HyperSpace, which was described here:

Phoenix Technologies' new HyperSpace is an instant-on environment for laptops, letting users launch a browser or other apps with booting into the OS.

Today, Phoenix Technologies introduced a firmware product called HyperSpace, which allows PCs to run a number of applications separate from the operating system. What that means is that if you use a PC equipped with HyperSpace, you will be able to quick-boot your notebook into a secure Linux environment, where you can use Web browsers like FireFox and pre-loaded Web-aware apps like Google Earth, Picasa, and the like.

[...]

Also, since HyperSpace is a Linux-based platform, Windows viruses won't affect it.


As Beta News put it at the time, "New Phoenix BIOS will run Linux apps when Windows fails."

The basic concept is that an embedded Linux OS will accompany the core system firmware or BIOS, allowing instant-on applications to be run from it at any time.


Even Dell expressed some optimism and showed its enthusiasm about such disruptive technologies at the time, but let's quickly look at Microsoft's apparent reaction.

BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies Ltd.'s plans to market a new application platform the company claims will solve a number of problems endemic to Microsoft's Windows platform might be taken as a provocative gesture at their longtime partner. But Redmond's immediate reaction was nonchalant.

On Monday, the Milpitas, Calif. software maker announced Hyperspace, a Linux-based virtualization platform that will let OEMs bundle cut-down versions of popular open-source software that end users will be able to access instantly, even without booting Windows.


Based on such report you would think that Microsoft does not care, wouldn't you? However, this new article brings back memories:

Splashtop is not the only such product on the market. A year ago, BIOS vendor Phoenix Technology launched HyperSpace, an equivalent that has yet to turn up on PCs in any numbers. Microsoft's view on the movement to embed cut-down operating systems is not known, but Phoenix did launch a pre-emptive strike against it to stop it blocking HyperSpace using restrictive Vista end-user license agreements (EULAs). Microsoft relented.


An antitrust complaint from Phoenix Technology, an eternal Microsoft partner (or so it thought) forced the monopoly to fix the anti-competitive EULA of Windows Vista. Microsoft tried to characterise this change as goodwill and a nice gesture, essentially changing the story which was originally told and claiming credit (even glory) for being abusive. The press underplayed this fiasco, but Mary Jo Foley was rather disgusted.

But the real reason for Microsoft’s capitulation became clear on March 7 via a new joint-status report in the Microsoft-Department of Justice case. It turns out BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies (a long-time Microsoft partner) filed a complaint with antitrust regulators about Microsoft’s virtualization restrictions.


Microsoft has tried to manipulate the virtualisation market in a variety of ways [1, 2, 3] because it had fallen so far behind. Microsoft insulted many people's intelligence when it claimed that a EULA could or could not define the level of security of the O/S, limited by editions of Windows, i.e. featureset being b/locked.

This wasn't the first time that Microsoft lied or twisted excuses about 'security' in order to be anti-competitive. Recall the OOXML/file types incident for example.

Speaking of which, OOXML is still a secret as Microsoft continues to disobey rules. Charles complaint about this only a couple of days ago and now he's now joined by Bob Sutor, not just Rob Weir, among others.

Will it [OOXML] ever be available? Does anyone care? Do any rules apply to this at all? What are the excuses for this? Just like almost ever other aspect of this particular process, dangerous exceptions and precedents are being set.


To sum up, here we have another case study exemplifying total disregard, market abuse, distortion of stories and a strategic fight against Linux, which escapes the media's attention.

Comments

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