The Linux Lock-out Debate Returns: Will Some Windows 8 Devices Eschew Linux?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 16, 2012

Late last year, in response to the extended brouhaha over its reported effort to implement a specification called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) that could make it impossible to run Linux on Windows 8 PCs, Microsoft officials responded with a long post that explains exactly what kinds of flexibility UEFI (Secure Boot) will offer. Many members of the Linux community remained skeptical that Windows 8 PCs will be able to run Linux. Now, the controversy is back with a new twist, as reports are emerging that Microsoft's UEFI scheme will block Linux on ARM-based devices.

Computerworld U.K.'s Glyn Moody reports:

" would appear that Microsoft is still locking out GNU/Linux from installation on ARM-based Windows 8 machines."

Moody cites a document that Microsoft published on Windows 8 hardware certification requirements, which contains the following text:

"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. Programmatic disabling of Secure Boot either during Boot Services or after exiting EFI Boot Services MUST NOT be possible. Disabling Secure MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems."

Indeed, the language from Microsoft does seem to imply that ARM-based Windows 8 devices will lock Linux out. Ars Technica has picked up the debate, and Ed Bott, author of a number of books about the Windows operating system, is out with a post that includes a number of zingers aimed at the Linux community:

"A tiny but vocal minority of Linux fanatics are pounding the table today over a new security feature called Secure Boot that will be introduced in  Windows 8, shrilly accusing Microsoft once again of a conspiracy to 'lock out' Linux...Windows 8 ARM systems do not yet exist. When they do ship, late this year or early next year, they will consist exclusively of tablets designed to run Metro-style apps. They will not run x86 software."

While his stance toward Linux users is questionable, Bott does have a point when he says that ARM-based Windows 8 devices don't exist yet. Still, Windows gets the stamp of approval from many IT departments when other operating systems don't, and when Windows 8 devices running ARM architecture do appear, it would be a shame for them to lock Linux out. 

Thus far, there is no official response from Microsoft on the issue, but the Linux lock-out debate is back in new form.