Saturday, 24 September 2011

Windows 8 and UEFI

I generally consider Windows 8 to be vapourware. There's no actual proper working copy of it yet. Although we do now know there is at least a developer version. Which Microsoft showed off recently. Which in turn led to much fan fair and excitement in some corners around the new Metro interface and it's Metro Apps. And I admit Metro does look good. So where's the catch?

Well firstly from what I can figure out, Metro is actually a new look IE designed to work with HTML5 apps wrapped up in an application wrapper. Which is actually how many Android and iOS apps are built. So nothing new there. Metro is basically a gimick. And gimicks are used to distract peoples attention from the small print. So what's in the small print of Windows 8?

UEFI is! UEFI is the proposed successor to the ageing BIOS. Microsoft is requireing that all OEMs and system builders participating in the Windows 8 logo program have a particular feature of UEFI enabled. This feature basically locks down the system so that it will only run approved OSs that have been signed with special security keys. Which isn't a problem if you're happy to just accept whatever Microsoft offer you.

It is however a problem if you like to tinker with your hardware. Remember you pay for the hardware. You own it. Hardware is not licensed unlike software. So surely it should be up to you what OS you choose to run? Well if Microsoft has it's way and OEMs ship their PCs with this new UEFI feature enabled, tinkers will no longer be able to use main stream OEM hardware.

UEFI with it's cripple ware feature enabled will require any OS you choose to install to be signed with those special "security" keys. Which poses problems for OSs like GNU/Linux and FreeBSD. It'll also create problems for project like the Haiku OS. A free open source version of the now dead BeOS. Developers of these operating systems would need to get every OEM to sign their OSs.

Which means at the end of the day UEFI basically excludes homebrew OS from being developed and run on mainstream hardware. Some people think this might violate EU competition rules.  I don't know how true that is. What I do know however is that this makes me think Microsoft are getting really desperate and resorting to some of Apple's dirty tricks to protect their monopoly. Apple use a similar feature of EFI to lock OS X down to Apple hardware.

http://www.uefi.org/home

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/21/secure_boot_firmware_linux_exclusion_fears/