With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

Summary: Why won't Microsoft tell PC manufacturers how to implement secure boot on their computer designs? Because anything they say can be used against them in a court of law. Literally.

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In the brouhaha over UEFI, Microsoft, and secure boot, a couple of key facts have been left out of the discussion.

Microsoft will require OEMs who want their systems to be certified for use with the Windows logo to meet certain requirements. For Windows 8, one of those requirements is that the secure boot feature be enabled on any systems they sell that are built with UEFI firmware. As I wrote yesterday, that is a crucial security measure for PC buyers in an increasingly hostile security landscape.

In its public statements on the issue, Microsoft has been extremely careful to describe its requirements in the most measured and narrow terms. Here's how the company phrased their stand on the Building Windows 8 blog:

Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows

[...]

Microsoft is working with our partners to ensure that secured boot delivers a great security experience for our customers. Microsoft supports OEMs having the flexibility to decide who manages security certificates and how to allow customers to import and manage those certificates, and manage secure boot. We believe it is important to support this flexibility to the OEMs and to allow our customers to decide how they want to manage their systems.

That statement reads to me like it was carefully vetted by multiple lawyers.

That hasn't stopped the company's opponents from speculating that Microsoft is working behind the scenes to undermine competition. For example, my colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes"Microsoft's long history of strong-arming OEMs" and "how Microsoft used to attack competitors in 90s."

The Free Software Foundation says, "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."

University of Cambridge Professor Ross Anderson wrote last month, "I hear that Microsoft (and others) are pushing for this to be mandatory, so that it cannot be disabled by the user..."

I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their suspicion and mistrust is genuine. But it ignores a crucial fact.

The behavior they are accusing Microsoft of plotting was expressly prohibited by the Modified Final Judgment in the case of U.S. v Microsoft. Under the heading "Prohibited Conduct," section C includes this wording:

Microsoft shall not restrict by agreement any OEM licensee from exercising any of the following options or alternatives:

[...]

Offering users the option of launching other Operating Systems from the Basic Input/Output System or a non-Microsoft boot-loader or similar program that launches prior to the start of the Windows Operating System Product.

I do not know much plainer the language could be.

It is true that oversight of Microsoft by the U.S. Department of Justice ended in May of this year. That does not mean that the company gets free rein to return to its old behavior. In fact, you can bet that if Microsoft were to directly or indirectly engage in the kind of behavior that forced it into court more than a decade ago, they would find themselves right back in court. That language from the final judgment would be on the very first page of the complaint.

And don't forget Europe and Korea and other jurisdictions that continue to scrutinize Microsoft for any signs of anticompetitive behavior. The EU already fined Microsoft billions of dollars for antitrust violations. Nobody likes writing a check that large.

So, yes, Microsoft has the right to set conditions on how PCs are configured when Windows is preinstalled on those systems. They will insist that secure boot be enabled. They require certain minimum hardware requirements to be met, and they mandate that the system drive be formatted using the NTFS file system.

But there is a very good reason you will not see Microsoft making any statement of any kind on how PC manufacturers should or should not implement the secure boot feature in their BIOS.

Because anything they say can be used against them in a court of law. Literally.

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Security, Software

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  • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

    Exactly, so they aren't going to tell the OEMs what to do. However if an OEM wants any sales they will implement secure boot and put Microsoft Windows on the PC. Any other operating system just won't sell on this hardware.
    LoverockDavidson_-24231404894599612871915491754222
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @LoverockDavidson_

      The problem is that UEFI is a VERY new technology and well..... it's had some hiccups with it.
      Lerianis10
      • Actually, EFI and UEFI has been around for years.

        @Lerianis10 It's been running on Macs and enterprise PCs for quite some time. It's just new on consumer PCs.

        My HP Slate has UEFI it and it's almost a year old.
        TheWerewolf
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @Lerianis10 UEFI on Mac has seemingly worked well, unless you're considering video card issues. But then again, when have NVIDIA and ATI/AMD's Graphics Division put out perfect code for their cards on the first, second, or 53rd attempt?
        Champ_Kind
      • <a href="http://www.tran33m.net/vb/">Ù?Ù?تدÙ?ات</a>

        @Lerianis10 that does not mean they will. Having said that, I agree that MS does not intend to get in more trouble with the law and never intended their secure boot requirement for the Windows logo to be a shot against alternative operating systems. But intentions and outcomes are different things. And in any case, you'll note that most of the outcry, while pointing fingers at MS (perhaps more strongly than they should), is directed at the OEMs who have the final say in the final implementations. And if this overreaction to a simple problem with a simple solution helps to guarantee that OEMs do use that simple solution, then it's worth the overreaction in the end. Then the only bad outcome would be that Windows fanatics got their drawers in a bunch in the process, but they'll get over it.
        alasiri
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @LoverockDavidson_

      The easiest way to prevent Linux running is to use new hardware. By the time a driver appears, everyone will have moved on ;-)
      tonymcs@...
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @LoverockDavidson_ <br>Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. (Benjamin Franklin)
      daikon
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @daikon <br>Franklin didn't say that - he printed it, but someone else wrote it - and that's not the correct wording, either:<br><br>"Those who would give up <i>essential</i> Liberty, to purchase a little <i>temporary</i> Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

        Notice the two words i've emphasised, which rather change the meaning from what you said.
        fairportfan
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @fairportfan<br>Paraphrased derivative, have a good day.
        daikon
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @daikon, note that fairportfan's direct quote pretty much throws out your implication. This is a fairly solid and permanent security, that only a digitally signed OS will boot with UEFI. Whitelisted operating systems is a good security solution.
        grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @daikon
        You misinterpet LIBERTY, much. You don't have the liberty to tell a manufacturer how to make a certain product. You do have the "liberty" to make suggestions, and the grandaddy of them all, the "liberty to not to buy the product. See, "liberty" is intact
        eargasm
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @LoverockDavidson_

      Whats hilarious about this entire spat is that UEFI isn't just sponsored by Microsoft on its board are:

      AMD
      American Megatrends Inc.
      Apple Computer, Inc.
      Dell
      Hewlett Packard
      IBM
      Insyde
      Intel
      Lenovo
      Microsoft
      Phoenix Technologies

      IBM have been shipping UEFI based x86 blades for a while with linux or windows installed and no one has complained.
      the.nameless.drifter
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @the.nameless.drifter There's nothing wrong with UEFI, so there's nothing "hilarious" about your list. Well, what is hilarious is that you left off Red Hat, which started the whole issue. There's nothing wrong with secure boot either. What there IS something wrong with is the possibility that it will be mandatory and non-disableable.

        What's hilarious about Ed's post is exactly the issue Loverock, of all people, pointed out: the claim that Microsoft can't tell OEMs to make the secure boot optional, but of course can use its monopoly power to force them to do it in the first place. Maintaining that doing the right thing to make sure systems don't exclude the competition would be in violation of the law, while adding a feature that has the potential to exclude your competition is completely competitive and not an abuse of monopoly power, is the mind-boggling theme here.
        jgm@...
      • And Linux will already work with it.

        @the.nameless.drifter

        Both the GRUB and elilo bootloaders are already configured to work with & use UEFI.

        So, as always with Linux, the distro developers can choose to incorporate the existing tools into their distros... or they can program their own.
        spdragoo@...
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @LoverockDavidson_

      But you've cleverly left out the key point... And they'll let the customer turn it off in the BIOS settings because they don't have any compelling reason to make their laptops "Windows-only" when it costs nothing to make it work with any system.
      TheWerewolf
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

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    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      I doubt you'd take one. You're a product of marketing, as most of us are, and cannot stomach using anything other than what you find precious. When you choose style of cost, you simply pay more for something that is nothing more. That's the brilliance of marketing and why some of us make a fortune off people like you. Thanks. <a href="http://www.ayimpex.com/Complete-Plant-for-Hulled-Sesame-Seeds-Processing.htm">seeds hulling machine</a>
      smile520
  • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

    "Microsoft will require OEMs who want their systems to be certified for use with the Windows logo to meet certain requirements." - thats the blackmail....
    deaf_e_kate
    • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

      @deaf_e_kate. Are you for real? Do you actually think before you type?

      This isn't blackmail, it's a series of pre-requisites that the OEM is entirely free to say "no thanks" to if they wish.

      They won't be able to put the Windows stickers on their PC's or laptops, but they can go ahead and sell their PC's with Windows preinstalled if they want ... or Linux for that matter.

      But customer beware if you buy from an OEM without a certified for Windows sticker on the box: your shiny new PC will be susceptible to rootkits and other forms of malware that could destroy your data and your life.
      bitcrazed
      • RE: With Windows 8, Microsoft can't forget past antitrust issues

        @bitcrazed

        [i]But customer beware if you buy from an OEM without a certified for Windows sticker on the box...[/i]

        Yeah because the Vista Capable stickers worked out so well.




        :)
        none none