CyberTech Rambler

January 18, 2012

Windows 8, UEFI and ARM architecture

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:18 pm

Just when one thought that the  war of words about “Microsoft uses UEFI to lock out competition” had faded into the background, Glyn Moody came out with the news that confirms that Microsoft do plan for a UEFI lock down for computers using Windows on the ARM architecture.

I quite frankly do not think Microsoft was stupid enough to put that on paper, especially since there was enough time between RedHat’s engineer post about the topic, and the publication of the document which confirmed UEFI lock down to remove the offending text.

Software Freedom Law Centre take on the topic says that as we are talking about ARM architecture which still haven’t make significant in road into computers and servers, this is probably aimed at tablets and mobile market and there will be less or no antitrust concerns. I believe SFLC is correct on both count. However, there are two things that I do not understand: One, if the former is true, than one can says Microsoft’s move is simply perpetrating what tablets and mobile phones manufacturers are doing today and will probably want to continue to enforce the lock in. So, why do Microsoft want to take the heat on behalf of device manufacturer instead of hiding behind them.

Two, DMCA exemption on jail-breaking, presumably make it legal for people to workaround this restriction, at least for a few years so why do this?

One reason I can think of is Microsoft is planning to  take market share by heavily subsidizing Windows on ARM to gain market share on tablets and mobile markets. Originally I thought why don’t Microsoft just come out in public and say we will give you, the device manufacturer, lower licensing fee in exchange for UEFI lock down if  request this. For one reason or another, they judge this solution unworkable. I think it is legally difficult to do this.  Barnes and Nobles, in their lawsuit against Microsoft, already accused Microsoft of setting the patent fee for Android device same or higher than what it charges for Windows license. If Microsoft did  come out to say I am subsidizing Windows licensee to get Windows on tablets and mobile phone, it plays into B&N’s lawyers hand and will probably throw Microsoft straight into another antitrust probe, this time for using its profit from PC to subsidize other fields. Without the UEFI-based locked down, people might just buy a subsidized Windows phone and convert it to Android, particularly if Android is already available for the same phone. Sooner or later someone in open source  community will create a way to do this. In the nightmare scenario for Microsoft is the network provider might even send you the Android image on request. The best way to stop it is of  course, lock the phone down on the UEFI level.

Let’s wait to see Microsoft’s response. It is a week now since the news broke. I actually expected Microsoft to had responded. However, it is still too early to say it had chosen not to respond.

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3 Comments »

  1. There is no “lock out”. OEMs making ARM tablets containing Windows 8 would not be prohibited from allowing UEFI to be bypassed, or from putting other OS’s on the tablet. It just means that if they do either of these two things, Microsoft won’t let them put a “Windows 8 compatible” sticker on the machine. And if you think that’s a big impediment, consider that a significant % of PC’s sold today have no “Windows compatible” sticker on them.

    Comment by Ian Easson — January 19, 2012 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  2. Dear Ian,

    Happy New Year!

    I did consider that. It makes no sense to have a “Windows 8 compatible” sticker if you already have “Windows 8” installed already.

    The only reason for having “Windows 8 compatible” sticker is if you want to upgrade. In this case, either (1) you have a Windows 7 machine or (2) You have an Android/iOS device and might want to upgrade to Windows 8.

    It means the key will be in place and your UEFI is already secure mode only, or more likely, your OEM will flash your firmware to set it into secure mode only when you want Windows 8. In either case, you cannot get out of Secure Mode forever. After this happens, given that the only operating systems key that is available is Windows, that is a lock. Just like a physical lock, the lock need not be unbreakable. Its job is to make it so difficult that most people will not try.

    Comment by ctrambler — January 19, 2012 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

  3. Frankly, I don’t think you truly understand Microsoft’s “Windows Compatible” marketing program. You’ve got it wrong, completely wrong.

    Without getting into details, the thing you most need to understand is one fact, just one fact.
    When Microsoft’s agreement with an OEM allows it to issue an “Compatible with Windows X” sticker, that ONLY applies to “Windows X” (whatever X is – Vista, 7, etc.)

    So, if I buy a PC (tablet, notebook, whatever the device format is) today, it will either have:

    1) No “Windows X” compatible sticker, or
    2) A “Windows X” compatible sticker.

    Today, it will not, repeat NOT, have a “Windows 8” compatible sticker. Windows 8 has not yet been released.

    So, there is no issue whatsoever with a tablet (or other device format) that I buy today will have an upgrade issue with Windows 8.

    In particular, there is therefore no upgrade “lock-in” regarding Windows 8.

    I hope this clears this issue up. (Of course, you can check this all yourself.)

    Ian

    Comment by Ian Easson — January 22, 2012 @ 12:44 am | Reply


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