The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is warning users to “stand up” for their freedom to install free software as Microsoft prepares its Secure Boot feature of Windows 8.
The FSF has created a petition to urge all computer makers implementing UEFI’s Secure Boot technology to allow users to disable the option. The issue stems from concerns that Microsoft and its hardware partners will attempt to block the installation of Linux on Windows 8 systems. Microsoft mandates that OEMs need to enable the Secure Boot technology on their systems for Windows 8. The Secure Boot technology means that OEMs must ship their systems with UEFI keys that will allow the installation and boot of Windows 8. Windows could be signed with a Microsoft key and the public part of that key would ship with all systems or each OEM would include their own key and sign the pre-installed version of Windows 8. The technology will ensure that Windows 8 boots securely but could mean that other operating systems may not install correctly, including older versions of Windows.
Red Hat engineer Matthew Garrett originally claimed that the new support would lock out installations of Linux. Microsoft responded to the original concerns. The company explained that it is working closely with its OEM partners to improve the security experience of Windows. “Microsoft supports OEMs having the flexibility to decide who manages security certificates and how to allow customers to import and manage those certificates, and manage secured boot,” said Tony Mangefeste on Microsoft’s Ecosystem team in a blog post in September. Microsoft believes that OEMs have the ability to customize their firmware to meet the needs of their customers by customizing the level of certificate and policy management on their platform. OEMs are free to allow the technology to be disabled using a switch in the UEFI firmware. The Samsung developer tablet, with Windows 8 Developer Preview, handed out at BUILD contains the ability to disable the firmware Secure Boot feature.
“We are concerned that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers will implement these boot restrictions in a way that will prevent users from booting anything other than Windows,” says Matt Lee, the FSF’s campaigns manager. “A better name for the technology might be Restricted Boot, since such a requirement would be a disastrous restriction on computer users and not a security feature at all.” The FSF has created a petition which urges those who sign it to boycott Windows 8 systems:
“ We, the undersigned, urge all computer makers implementing UEFI’s so-called “Secure Boot” to do it in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security, manufacturers must either allow computer owners to disable the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way for them to install and run a free software operating system of their choice. We commit that we will neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom, and we will actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems.”