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Monday, 29 April 2013 10:48

Windows 8 still a hurdle for Linux


Six months have gone by since Windows 8 hit the market and it looks like Linux distributions - at least the better-known ones - are still struggling to ensure that they can live side by side with this operating system.

Apart from having to go through the rigmarole of verifying, through a process of key-signing, operating system authenticity, those who are chasing Microsoft's tail also have to do a couple of other things.

No user, who runs Linux on a system that has secure boot enabled, should be able to send his or her system into a state of hibernation. The reason is that when Windows 8 returns from such a state, it verifies that the image which is being brought back has not been tampered with.

Linux does not have this capability. Those Linux distributions that have developed a means of booting on secure boot-enabled systems need to disable hibernation in the kernel. Or they can do as Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, has done and remove the hibernation option from the user interface.

As Sian Aherne of Canonical told iTWire: "...the option to 'hibernate' is removed from the user interface in 13.04 however, it is possible to hibernate using the command line in the Terminal. Suspend is an option in the UI that works well (the command would be: sudo pm-hibernate)."

If Microsoft raises an objection to this, then, of course, Canonical will have to go the whole hog and disable the feature in the kernel itself.

Another feature in Linux is kexec. According to the man page this is, "a system call that enables you to load and boot into another kernel from the currently running kernel. kexec performs the function of the boot loader from within the kernel. The primary difference between a standard system boot and a kexec boot is that the hardware initialisation normally performed by the BIOS or firmware (depending on architecture) is not performed during a kexec boot. This has the effect of reducing the time required for a reboot."

This is against the rules that Microsoft has set down for secure boot systems. Hence Linux distributions have to fall into line and disable it.

Aherne said of Ubuntu, "Kexec has been disabled in the kernel for general users (not for hyperscale ARM Highbank systems)."

Distributions like Fedora (and Red Hat) and openSUSE (and SUSE) will, no doubt, have done something similar or will have to do so in order to keep in line.

That's the price of compliance with the dictates of Redmond. That it is a shameful thing to be doing is, of course, not remarked on often.

Last week, I had a look at Fedora and Ubuntu, the former an alpha image of version 19, and the latter a 13.04 release. In neither case is it possible for a person to easily create space on a disk running Windows 8 and install the distribution to have a dual-boot set-up.

The seasoned user can fiddle his or her way through. Or a second disk can be added to the machine in question and these distributions can be installed. On a laptop, this is not an option, at least not for most common laptops.

What's written above applies to openSUSE too.

Debian is close to a release but it is highly unlikely that it will even be able to boot on a secure boot-enabled system.

Six months on, this is not a great deal to show. We still hear boasts of how well distributions work on secure boot systems. Of course, once you've got past that hurdle, you can do little with Linux unless you set up a system for your use. Once you try to install, you hit a brick wall.

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Sam Varghese

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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