And so the war on general computing continues. Were you looking forward to ARM laptops and maybe even desktops now that Windows 8 will also be released for ARM? I personally was, because I’d much rather have a thin, but fast and economical machine than a beastly Intel PC. Sadly, it turns out that all our fears regarding UEFI’s Secure Boot feature were justified: Microsoft prohibits OEMs from allowing you to install anything other than Windows 8 on ARM devices (the Software Freedom Law Center has more).
I had honestly hoped that I was wrong with my concerns over Secure Boot. Really, I hoped so hard. Sadly, ’tis not to be true. It turns out Microsoft has been lying to us all this time (shocker, right?), and despite their sugared words, they’re definitely going to force OEMs into not allowing anything but Windows to be installed on ARM devices.
In response to the initial concerns over Secure Boot’s potential anti-alternative operating system nature, Microsoft stated it would not force OEMs into anything. “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,” Redmond promised, “Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows.”
Well, dip me in white chocolate and call me Lorelai, but the company has amended its Windows Hardware Certification Requirements, stating that OEMs are not allowed to disable Secure Boot on ARM machines, or even offer the option for users to turn it off (emphasis mine).
On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup. A physically present user must be allowed to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup without possession of PKpriv. Programmatic disabling of Secure Boot either during Boot Services or after exiting EFI Boot Services MUST NOT be possible. Disabling Secure MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems.
This effectively makes it impossible to boot anything but Windows 8 on these ARM devices, rendering these devices entirely useless as general computing devices. Qualcomm has already announced ARM chipsets specifically for Windows 8 ARM ultrabooks, meanign you’re going to be buying a laptop that won’t be able to run anything other than Windows 8.
And so, step by step, the power over our own machines is taken away from us. It started with PDAs and smartphones – entirely capable of running whatever we want, but locked down by either device makers (Apple), software makers (Microsoft), or carriers (most Android phones). Then came tablets – devices which resemble general purpose computers even more closely. Also entirely locked down. And now, they’re coming for our laptops.
Well, screw ARM laptops and desktops, then. I’m not going to buy one of them if I’m stuck to Windows 8 and its My First Computerâ„¢ Metro interface – I already have a My First Computerâ„¢ (it’s called the iPad 2).