Back in October 2011, the Free Software Foundation speculated on the possibility that Microsoft might be trying to block out other operating systems from loading within a computer, using a new concept known as the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). Microsoft showed it off a couple of months back, booting up Windows 8 in eight seconds. Linux users: Should you be concerned?
What’s The Problem?
It seems like a good time for Linux users to speak out against this if they use both operating systems on the same computer. While there’s no problem with UEFI itself, the “secure boot” feature in the architecture might make it impossible for Windows 8 computers to let another operating system piggyback on them. “Secure boot” was a feature implemented to prevent the computer from using a malicious boot loader that would corrupt key components. Unfortunately, the method of OS loading isn’t compatible with that of Linux, and we still don’t have word about whether Apple plans to make a new OS that goes around this or at least uses the the technology.
Windows 8 Certification Requirements
As part of the certification requirements, all PCs that want to run Windows 8 will soon have to conform to the UEFI architecture and make it possible to boot Windows 8 through secure boot. The standardization involved worries me, because Linux will be pushed out of the picture unless one distribution comes out that also conforms to the new demands of Microsoft. That shouldn’t be difficult, but there probably could have been other ways to implement UEFI without requiring modifications to the operating system attempting to run on the computer. How much boot loader malware is there, anyway? I thought some motherboard manufacturers protect against that already.
Concerns by FSF
The Free Software Foundation found that this new requirement for Windows 8 certification might hinder free operating systems from being installed on newer computers. The foundation currently holds a petition, which you can sign here. The petition demands Microsoft to make UEFI’s “Secure Boot” feature in a way that will allow free software and operating systems to run on computers. It also says that computer manufacturers should include an option to disable this feature, so that free software like Linux will run on any computer.
Surely enough, Microsoft was watching the dilemma and responded to the issue, saying that there’s already an option within their hardware prototypes to disable secure boot attempts from the motherboard. We’re still not sure, though, whether you’ll be able to run Windows 8 with secure boot disabled. Microsoft has admitted indirectly, however, that the option could turn up missing on certain platforms that weren’t released by the company. In other words, any OEM can choose to omit the option to disable secure boot, making this the first step towards a world without a free OS.
Many people don’t realize this, but there are already solutions to boot loader attacks implemented by some OEMs. All of these solutions do not interrupt the hooking process involved in making the operating system load. Authentication can be achieved through chips on the motherboard, just like secure boot does, without making the operating system change its primary boot code. While I’m not the biggest expert in operating system development, I’m still aware that there are other ways of achieving the same thing. Why do you think Microsoft chose secure boot, which would force OEMs to implement a uniform standard architecture? Leave your opinion in a comment below!
Photo Credit: BIOS Configuration Screen – Microsoft