There’s another round of fussing among Linux users over Microsoft’s decision to require a feature called Secure Boot in Windows 8. I break down the details over at ZDNet. Here’s an excerpt from Linux won’t be locked out of Windows 8 PCs, but FUD continues
Let’s talk about Windows 8 PCs. The new specifications make it very clear:
- All versions of Windows 8 shall be UEFI-compatible …
- All client systems must support UEFI Secure boot …
- MANDATORY: Enable/Disable Secure Boot. On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup. A physically present user must be allowed to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup without possession of PKpriv [the private key that supports Secure Boot].
“Non-ARM systems” means the classic x86 PC design. Roughly 400 million of these devices will be sold this year, and probably an equivalent number will be sold in the first year that Windows 8 is available. Every single one of those PCs will have the ability to run older versions of Windows, Linux, or a new operating system you create yourself. To do so, you will simply have to flip a bit in the system’s setup screen.
Sorry, conspiracy theorists. This does not represent “Microsoft’s latest attempt to abuse their PC monopoly power .” Quite the opposite. In the general-purpose PC segment, where small vestiges of Microsoft’s one-time monopoly still exist, this new security feature will be enabled by default, but the option to disable it will be mandatory. No lock-out for Linux.
General-purpose PCs are awesome. I don’t believe they will ever go away. I do not want them to go away.
But I do think we’ll see many more specialized devices that are engineered as part of end-to-end experiences, not easily hackable, with limitations imposed by app stores and digital signatures.
I want to have the choice to buy those devices as well as general-purpose PCs. iPads are arguably highly locked down. One can chafe at the limitations and restrictions, but there is no doubt that the end result is a very secure, very usable, very supportable combination of device and software.
The reason that the full system is “locked down” and the app store is curated is to keep out malware. And I would bet the number of people who are affected every year by malware is an order of magnitude larger than the people who want to buy a PC with one OS installed and hack it so they can install something else.
For many people, especially nontechnical users, the availability of that type of device is a good thing. Between Apple, Google, and Microsoft, we are heading toward a world where we will have at least three different hardware/OS and app ecosystems, all of them designed around very different experiences. I hope that all three of those platforms are able to coexist. I’d rather not return to the days of monopoly, thanks very much.
Ironically, the “open hardware” movement wants to restrict my choice. I want the ability to buy a device that can’t be easily hacked, even by me. We both want “open” PCs to continue to exist. But by insisting that every device be “open,” they’re taking away my option to freely, with eyes wide open, choose “closed.”