Will Windows 8 Lock Linux Out of PCs?

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 21, 2011

Will Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system be tuned to lock Linux installations off of PCs? There are some real questions arising about the issue. Microsoft is working on a methodology for ultra-fast booting of Windows 8 PC through a specification called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). That specification reportedly includes a secure booting routine that is expressly designed to obstruct rootkit malware infections, but some observers worry that it could also mean that any Windows 8 PC will not be able to run Linux. There are several reasons why this won't happen, though.

Network World has a good report on the UEFI boot spec, noting this possibility:

"Without a key, Linux will be unable to boot off the machine. It may be possible for Linux distro makers to somehow offer signed versions of Linux, but this too, is problematic as this would require a bootloader not covered by the GPL. It also doesn't help people who want to run their own custom-tweaked versions of Linux."

It's highly doubtful this will end up being a concern when the final version of Windows 8 comes to fruition. Microsoft has become increasingly aware that IT administrators are interested in heterogenous environments where many people want to use multiple operating systems. We've also noted that Windows 8 is taking some of its cues from Linux. It's not in Microsoft's best interest to box out alternative operating systems.

Also, in the early debate over the Windows 8 boot spec, there has been little discussion of how virtualization could allow PCs to run Microsoft's new OS and Linux in tandem. I have two machines that have virtualized instances of Windows and Ubuntu, a convenient setup that allows me to use a larger universe of applications than I would have available through only one OS. 

Technically, UEFI could be implemented in such a way as to box Linux out, and the Linux community is already debating that possibility, as seen here. Don't hold your breath waiting for this scenario, though.