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Thursday, 29 September 2011 09:32

GNU/Linux users given false hope over Windows 8 issue


Over the past few days, GNU/Linux users have been complaining about the Windows 8 secure boot specification, an issue that was raised in these columns a few days ago.

Briefly put, the Windows 8 specs require that a secure boot take place - in other words, the OS and the hardware have keys that only enable said OS to boot on specific hardware. Linux kernel developer Matthew Garrett was the first to raise the issue on his blog.

Microsoft responded to his objections after they began to be widely reported on the web.

Garrett pointed out later that the company had said nothing to remove the fears that users of other operating systems, including GNU/Linux, may have: that if they buy a Windows 8 certified PC when it does come out, they will only be able to run Windows 8 - and that too a specific copy of that operating system - on it.

Though Garrett is a seasoned hacker, some of what he writes makes one wonder if he has his wits about him - things like "If Microsoft were serious about giving the end user control..." This makes me wonder exactly what the man is smoking.

Since when has Microsoft been interested in giving users control? Indeed, since when has the maker of any proprietary operating system been interested in giving users control? This is naivety of a very high order.

The story has a local angle (read the entire thread) - some members of the Linux Users of Victoria mailing list have sent a letter of complaint to the Australian Competition and Comsumer Commission about the secure boot issue and received a form letter as a response.

Now excerpts from this form letter are being used to spread the myth that the ACCC has actually given these complainants some reason to hope that they have a case.

That's a very long bow to draw. Everybody gets that same form letter when they make a general complaint.

The reality is that unless and until someone makes a very specific complaint about an issue - preferably drafted by a lawyer, with each paragraph beginning with the word "Wherefore..." - the ACCC will keep sending form letters in reply.

Let's strip away all the technical aspects of the issue and the noise and focus on just one thing - whom can Microsoft claim it is protecting by insisting on a secure boot process? Why, the consumer, of course.

Incidentally, the ACCC's mission is also to protect consumers. Does one then expect the ACCC to act against this measure when there have been reams and reams written about the malware problem that Windows poses?

Logically, one would think not.

GNU/Linux users are a tiny fraction of PC users worldwide - less than 1 per cent. The noise they raise about an issue is far out of proportion to their numbers. And when there is sufficient noise around an issue - this story has made it to the echo chamber called Slashdot and that is nirvana for many of this crowd - people gain false hopes that the authorities are seized of it.

I guess we all need these little illusions to live.

The only realistic way that something can be done to ensure that the GNU/Linux user will be able to run his/her operating system on a Windows 8-certified PC, is for big companies that use GNU/Linux - IBM, HP, Google, Novell, Red Hat, to name a few - to lobby hardware makers and OEMs and come up with a solution.

Else, it might be a good idea for people to learn how to build their own PCs. And once laptop manufacturers go with Microsoft too, the desktop PC hardware industry may well see a boom.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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