Eighteen months after shipping, AMD’s Personal Internet Communicator, aimed at lowering the cost of computing so half the world could enjoy Internet access by 2015, apparently still doesn’t run Linux. It now appears the design may actually be rigged to block the use of Linux.
AMD PIC Snubs Linux?
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2006-05-04 11:06 pmTerracotta
did you actually read the article? The reason why they blocked installing something else but windows CE was because their customers didn’t want their personnel to be able to hit a few keys and reinstall stuff. So they locked it. Besides the opposite can be done too, if someone wants solely linux, they can block windows from installing on the thing.
2006-05-05 8:04 amdsmogor
Edited 2006-05-05 08:09
2006-05-05 11:11 amBryanFeeney
How DUMB can that be?
Not half as dumb as you for not reading the ——- article, which clearly stated that a Windows CE license can be as cheap as $3 depending on volume and the options you choose.
The BIOS was set up to check the host OS, and reset if anything went wrong. It’s a security/stability thing. Allowing Linux to work would be more work (and therefore cost) and would not pay off due to minimal consumer demand.
I like Linux as much as the next guy, but this article is just trolling.
Edited 2006-05-05 11:12
2006-05-06 3:17 amdeathshadow
>> The BIOS was set up to check the host OS, and reset if anything went wrong. It’s a security/stability thing. Allowing Linux to work would be more work (and therefore cost) and would not pay off due to minimal consumer demand.
Which was my take on the device originally… and yes, I’ve seen it running linux and you do have to jump through a couple hoops; but what the majority of chicken necks here are missing is this is a device that in most installations has CE EMBEDDED.
That and target market – these were being billed as something grandma takes home, plugs in and goes online with – not something the hacker takes home and tries shoe-horning linux onto. Ever try loading linux on a WebTV2? This is no different; and you’ll note that it’s NOT AMD that did it, it’s the people reselling these things. “The PIC can run Linux, but it is not a solution that our customers or users have asked for.” spells it out in pretty big letters. AMD’s customers LIKE Radio Shack are the ones that should be the topic of the article, not AMD itself.
Besides, 99% of the wild claims of malware immunity the article makes misses the fact that Windows CE is damned near as immune to tampering as linux. Ever seen a stable fast version of IE immune to activeX and other exploits? I have, it’s called a CE device.
I have never seen the PIC being sold anywhere, not online, not brick and mortar shops (in europe), so it’s mainly that there’s not too many people working on it, in contrast for example with the intel mac’s running windows, that A LOT of people had access to them and they even set up a fund and paid for it.
PIC is noting more than a low cost PC, if General Software produce BIOS for medical equipament or for customer who don’t want they equipament being used for other purposes don’t make sense in such context.
So, they rendered the PIC a capped version of full blow computer although it can behave as such, a complete disrespect for their customers.
2006-05-04 9:15 pmsnozzberry
No one forced AMD to go with GS. GS’ specialty is creating single-purpose firmware to discourage hacking, and that was in all likelihood as much a motive for AMD as Apple picking a CSM-less EFI to initially discourage running Windows.
Fewer types of configurations means less to have to support. Given the price tag, AMD is likely very keen on limiting the amount of money they could potentially lose on having to give whitebox-level support to customers even if the warranty already prohibits it.
The other upside for them is that they get to keep more of their hardware mojo secret. Make it open to OSS OSes, and geeks will reverse engineer your platform itself and potentially expose your flaws, corner cutting, mistakes, etc.
I hate it too, but I can see their motive.
I wonder if this attempt to block running linux on the device will be as successful as any of the others 😉
How long before there is a piclinux.com or linuxonpic.com?
Edited 2006-05-04 21:42
That article left me a little confused. It seemed to be insinuating that AMD specifically designed the PIC to not be used with Linux, however it never really provides any evidence of this.
The article says (I’m paraphrasing here) that Linux runs on all sorts of hardware, so since it doesn’t run on the PIC, the PIC must be designed specifically to prevent Linux. Now this may be the case, but proving the existence of a conspiracy by citing the lack of a Linux distribution seems a bit of a stretch without any other evidence.
To support the hint that AMD is trying to lock out Linux from the PIC, the author cites two sources. The first source is an AMD rep who says (no surprise here) that Linux can run on the PIC but no customers have asked for it. And the second source is a VP at the firm the did the BIOS tool chain for the PIC who says that it is possible to use their tools to prevent a BOIS from loading all but a specific OS image, but who didn’t say whether or not AMD did this with the PIC. Of course the author of the article uses the “so and so refused to comment on” way of describing the information from the BIOS tool chain VP (a pretty standard way to present a lack of information as information).
What bothers me so much is that one type source that the author neglected to consult was a Linux developer who tried to port Linux to the PIC. In a bogus attempt to create this type of source out of thin air the author stated: “Before the PIC was discontinued by Radio Shack, many likely did try. However, the PIC uses a BIOS that may have been specifically configured to guard against such (mis)appropriation.” Notice the words “likely”, and “may”. Well did a developer try to run Linux on a PIC or not? When we port OSs to new platforms we often request help via mailing lists, newsgroups and message boards. Couldn’t a reporter for Linuxdevices.com at least try to search for a post regarding this issue? Then we could find out from a real live Linux developer (not the hypothetical one in the article) whether or not the BOIS overwrote or rejected the Linux boot image. After all, this would be detectable to the developer, and it is highly unlikely (see I can use that word too) that a developer encountering this situation would remain silent. My only guess is that the reporter who wrote this article was just too lazy to try and find a real live developer to interview.
Maybe AMD did lock out Linux from running on the PIC, maybe they didn’t. The article really doesn’t say. This brings me back to my original question: Did this article actually have any news worthy content? Did I miss it?
yeah, it seems that almost no one read the article, the PIC has a BIOS that offers an OS Lock function, the default OS Lock is set to Windows CE, but you can create a BIOS without OS Lock or lock it to any other OS.
“”[Our kit lets customers create BIOSes that] verify images before booting them, or [that] require a running OS to ‘check in’ with the BIOS from time to time. If it doesn’t, the BIOS assumes that malicious code has taken over, and restores the device to its original state,” Dierden said.
Last year, plans were announced to demonstrate the PIC running Linspire Linux at the 2005 Desktop Linux Summit in San Diego. Presumably, the PIC used in that demo had a BIOS reconfigured for Linux, assuming the demo came off as planned. “Our tools would let them build a BIOS for Linux, sure,” Dierden said.”
Edited 2006-05-05 00:12
Some cell phone service providers sell GSM phones that are locked so that they can’t be used with other providers. To make people buy them they keep the price of these phones extremely low or even give them away for free. Naturally, they do this to make money on their phone services.
Similar things would make sense for subscription based OSes. E.g. you could get a locked down computer free if you subscribed to windows for a certain amount of time.
However, for this to happen Microsoft have to convince their customers to use the subscription model, something that companies like Red Hat so far have have been much more successful in doing.
Get a grip and move on – I have.
If you don’t like AMD, build your own.
Edited 2006-05-05 03:47
They aren’t blocking Linux but Windows 98/2000/XP. The tool they used just happens to work so that it blocks Linux, BSD’s and friends as a side effect.
… then I would take Linux, create a specific distro for this box (maybe based on a meta-distro such as Debian), and then lock it down so nobody can change it (e.g. store the software in a flash ROM or somehow secured flash ROM). Just to make sure that anybody who tries to remove it knows that he voids his warranty and cannot hope for support. However, I would leave enough things open so that people can extend their system e.g. with drivers for USB stuff.
@terracotta: No, it’s not that. that is the explanation. I’m going well back behind that. at the decision of using windowsCE in beginning.
The fact that they blocked the BIOS cannot be sustained with the fact that the aquirer wanted them to block their employee or customer from installing anything else.
They could have made different operating sistem (namely two) and then let the customer decide wich one they wanted and that would have locked the BIOS.
Instead , plain Windows and BIOS locked, Finito.
No mate, sorry, but this is selling a product with windows inside, and an illegal block to alternatives.
2006-05-05 10:57 amTerracotta
What about the fact that if a customer wanted such a device with solely linux, would you complain too? The PIC seems to be quite customized for it’s customers, so if a company sais it wants enough of these devices, but they want to run linux it’s not a problem to do so. The introduction to the article is btw quite wrong, the design is not rigged to block the use of linux, it’s rigged to block anything but a specific OS chosen by its customers, since they all wanted windows on it their selling a product with windows inside and a (don’t know if it’s illegal in Europe, depends on the country I think) block to alternatives.
Edit: typo, there are other probably other mistakes as well.
Edited 2006-05-05 10:58
And a linux licence completely free.
Sorry pal, but you’re totally missing the point. This comp is locked because it was made that way and the licence, on an overall basis, costs probably more than the hardware itself. Did you see the stats?
They put CE inside and locked it on purpose to use it as a beachhead for windows in developping nations ( IMO).
Creating a linux custom for that machine isn’t that difficult at all.
And on the long run, cheaper.
2006-05-06 2:11 pmMorin
> No mate, sorry, but this is selling a product with
> windows inside, and an illegal block to alternatives.
Of course it is selling a product with Windows inside – why not? If AMD thinks that they will be better off with Windows, it’s their decision. And why exactly is a trick to block alternatives illegal?
> And a linux licence completely free.
You are not in the position to decide for AMD which is cheaper. If you think that you can build a better, cheaper device based on Linux, go ahead.
> This comp is locked because it was made that way
Exactly. I would do the same thing, although I might choose Linux for the software. This gadget is simply not meant to use it with different software, and everybody who tries it anyway should have to tweak it enough to be aware that he loses warranty and support. This in turn raises the level of quality for those who use it as intended.
> and the licence, on an overall basis, costs
> probably more than the hardware itself.
So again you are saying that they have made a bad decision that costs them money. Do you own AMD stocks or why is this so important to you?
Sorry, but I don’t see the logic in what you are saying. You don’t want to have Linux on this thingy just for the sake of it, do you?
Municator rockz !
…and the Google video:
…it doesn’t seem to be AMD’s decision, but rather the decision of AMD’s “customer”, in this case Radio Shack (the article isn’t that clear on that subject).
Apparently, there was a PIC running Linspire at last years’s Linux Desktop Summit, so it’s definitely possible. I wonder if it would be possible to just flash the BIOS in order to allow Linux to install? After all, if you bought it, you should be able to do so legally…
They built a computer that has a per-piece cost that is lower of the WinCe license and gave it a BIOS that BLOCKS the free software to work on it?
How DUMB can that be?
Unless you didn’t do that on purpose to permit your buddy to get a foot in a new developing market… Yes Bill, talking of you.