If you buy Microsoft's explanation for the company requiring a version of UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) on PCs that can run Windows 8, it's there to protect users from next-generation malware. If you think that's the only reason for the UEFI to be in there, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. The UEFI requirement is also there to block Linux and other alternative operating systems from booting on Windows 8 PCs. In response to this open-source operating system threat, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has started a petition to urge original equipment manufacturers (OEM)s to give people a way to easily opt out of Microsoft's Windows 8 UEFI cage.
The FSF fears, with reason, that Microsoft will make it difficult, if not impossible, for end-users to install other operating systems, such as Ubuntu 11.10 on Windows 8 systems. So it is that the FSF is asking users to "Stand up for your freedom to install free software" by signing a petition asking that UEFI be installed on Windows 8 systems in a way that will allow users to install Linux or other alternative open-source operating systems such as FreeBSD or OpenIndana, the successor operating system to OpenSolaris.
Specifically, the FSF is urging "all computer makers implementing UEFI's so-called 'Secure Boot' to do it in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security, manufacturers must either allow computer owners to disable the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way for them to install and run a free software operating system of their choice. We commit that we will neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom, and we will actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems."
The reasons for this petition, the FSF, explained is that since "Microsoft has announced that if computer makers wish to distribute machines with the Windows 8 compatibility logo, they will have to implement a measure called 'Secure Boot.' However, it is currently up for grabs whether this technology will live up to its name, or will instead earn the name Restricted Boot."
While admitting that "When done correctly, 'Secure Boot' is designed to protect against malware by preventing computers from loading unauthorized binary programs when booting." The FSG continued, "In practice, this means that computers implementing it won't boot unauthorized operating systems--including initially authorized systems that have been modified without being re-approved."
That's fine, as far as the FSF is concerned so "long as the user [is] able to authorize the programs she wants to use, so she can run free software written and modified by herself or people she trusts. However, we are concerned that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers will implement these boot restrictions in a way that will prevent users from booting anything other than Windows. In this case, we are better off calling the technology Restricted Boot, since such a requirement would be a disastrous restriction on computer users and not a security feature at all."
Thus, "It is essential that manufacturers get their implementation of UEFI right. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security, they must either provide users a way of disabling the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way that allows the computer owner to install a free software operating system of her choice."
While Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's president of the Windows division can say that "OEMs are free to choose how to enable this support," given Microsoft's long history of strong-arming OEMs and, indeed Bill Gates will soon be appearing in court again to defend how Microsoft used to attack competitors in the 90s, do we really have any reason to trust Microsoft today? I think not.
As Red Hat engineer Matthew Garrett said when he dug into the problems that UEFI posed for Linux, "The truth is that Microsoft's move removes control from the end user and places it in the hands of Microsoft and the hardware vendors." If you'd like to make sure the control about what runs on your PC remains in your hands and not Microsoft's, I urge you to sign the FSF petition.
Caged animal image by <A HREF="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vinothchandar/"> VinothChandar, </A>, CC 2.0.