Microsoft Locks Out Linux On ARM Systems Shipping Windows 8

It's been a few years since Microsoft really shot itself in the foot by making itself look really unfriendly, and someone at the company must've been missing the pain. A careful read of the company's "Windows 8 Hardware Certification Requirements" document has revealed draconian policies that require vendors to block the installation of other operating systems on ARM devices.

First, a bit of history. Earlier this fall, Microsoft briefly made waves when it announced that Windows 8 would require that UEFI (the successor to BIOS) Secure Boot be enabled on all systems that ship with Windows 8 installed. Secure Boot uses vendor-provided signed keys to ensure that the OS in question has been properly validated. The concern was that this process could be used to effectively prevent the installation of Linux on ARM products.

Microsoft responded to these allegations with a substantial blog entry on the UEFI standard and how Secure Boot works, but the company's response to fears that it would prevent non-MS OS's from running was answered as follows: "Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows."

And so it doesn't -- as long as we're talking about x86 hardware. The document in question states: "On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable the Secure Boot via firmware setup." It then goes on to say (on Page 116): "Disabling Secure MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems."

We don't WANNA play fair!

There's no technical reason why MS would support disabling Secure Boot for one CPU architecture but enabling it for another, which leaves us with non-technical justifications -- of which there are plenty. By locking out alternate OS's, MS ensures that Windows customers stay Windows customers.

Such a condition would never fly in the x86 world, where MS is the dominant vendor. In handhelds, however, Microsoft only supplies a tiny fraction of the overall market. The company is obviously hoping it can lock out the threat of Android competition by preventing the installation of other operating systems. It's not so different from the early 90s, when Microsoft attempted to force OEMs to purchase a Windows license for every system they shipped, even if the box didn't utilize a Microsoft operating system.

In September, when this issue first arose, MS issued a long statement justifying its response and noting that the Secure Boot feature was part of the UEFI standard. We can't wait to see the company's justification this time around. After years of (fairly) good behavior, Microsoft had begun to build a reputation as a company that legitimately played nice with others. After this, it seems a time out is in order.