Microsoft blocks Linux from Windows 8 ARM hardware

January 16, 2012 | 11:36

Tags: #gnulinux #tablet #uefi #windows-8

Companies: #arm #microsoft #qualcomm

Documentation published by Microsoft regarding the UEFI Secure Boot functionality to be used in Windows 8 suggests that ARM-based systems supplied with the OS, including tablets and laptops, won't be able to run any third-party operating systems.

Microsoft's plans for the UEFI Secure Boot got some attention late last year when it was pointed out that by mandating the use of Secure Boot - which requires any boot-time code to be digitally signed with a unique key - the company appeared to be looking to lock third-party operating systems, such as GNU/Linux, out of PCs entirely.

Microsoft was quick to hit back at such claims, stating categorically that OEMs would provide buyers with the ability to disable the UEFI Secure Boot mode for use with non-signed operating systems. Sadly, it appears that the company missed one vital point from its statement: the fact that ARM-based systems are excluded.

According to the company's latest certification requirements document for Windows 8, while non-ARM systems - traditional desktops and laptops, in other words - will allow a 'custom' mode to be selected that prevents UEFI Secure Boot from blocking third-party unsigned code, the ARM build - for tablets and low-power laptops - must have this feature removed if manufacturers want to be able to put the Windows logo on their products.

'On an ARM system, it is forbidden to enable Custom Mode. Only Standard Mode may be enable [sic],' Microsoft's official certification guidelines state, buried on page 116 of a particularly lengthy PDF. 'Disabling Secure [Boot] MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems.'

Microsoft's apparent volte-face on the Secure Boot issue has been met with anger by open-source and free market enthusiasts. 'Unless Microsoft changes its policy, these may be the first PCs ever produced that can never run anything but Windows,' Aaron Williamson of the Software Freedom Law Center explains. 'It is clear now that opportunism, not philosophy, is guiding Microsoft's Secure Boot policy.'

Thus far, Microsoft has not responded to a request for comment on the matter. But with the likes of Qualcomm already promising a range of ARM-based tablets and laptops, a locked-down future could be just around the corner for computing.

Are you disappointed in Microsoft's decision to block open source operating systems, or is the company free to demand whatever concessions it feels like as part of its hardware certification programme? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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