These Boots Aren’t Made for Walkin’

“When done correctly, “Secure Boot” is designed to protect against malware by preventing computers from loading unauthorized binary programs when booting. In practice, this means that computers implementing it won’t boot unauthorized operating systems — including initially authorized systems that have been modified without being re-approved.

“This could be a feature deserving of the name, as long as the user is able to authorize the programs she wants to use, so she can run free software written and modified by herself or people she trusts. However, 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. ”

FSF: Stand up for your freedom to install free software

Although Microsoft’s “Secure Boot” purports to provide consumer security, it also imposes serious Digital Rights Restrictions (DRM). The Free Software Foundation has been running a campaign to oppose the Windows 8 Secure Boot which would impede or prevent users from choosing to load free software on computers that come loaded with Windows 8. Erik Steinman’s web comic (below) won the contest FSF ran to raise awareness of this very serious issue.

Ordinarily I try to confine articles I write about technology to either my TechDitz or interweb freedom blogs. But this issue is particularly important from a copyright standpoint.

free software

In Canada you can’t simply walk into Tiger Direct, Future Shop, Staples or even Canada Computers and buy a GNU/Linux computer system off the shelf.  You’ll only find new computers preloaded with an Apple or Microsoft OS.

Canada Computers will sell you the components so you can build your own; and, like Tiger Direct or System 76, will sell you a customized computer with your choice of GNU/Linux software installed.  It will necessarily cost more — after all, the empty device costs them more.

Apple manufactures its own devices, so it isn’t surprising Apple devices come loaded with Apple software.  In Canada, Microsoft Windows is routinely preloaded on new computers built by the other manufacturers. Through Byzantine machinations that are far beyond my own rudimentary understanding of economics, a computer with no operating system at all costs more than than a computer pre-loaded with Windows. That’s just the way it is.

The last time we went shopping for a computer for my high school aged child, we brought along the free software of choice on a thumb drive, so we could test drive the computer with the intended OS.  This would not be possible on a secure boot computer.

Presumably you could pay more to buy an empty box, but traditionally people simply buy computers encumbered with Microsoft’s OS and then either replace it with a GNU/Linux free software OS, or add it as a second OS. That’s how things stand on the netbook I’m writing this on.  When I turn it on I get to decide if I want to boot with the pre-installed Windows 7 Light or the version of Ubuntu I’ve installed.  I think I’ve opened Windows all of three or four times to let it update (and update, and update).

C-11 ~ Canada’s special circumstances

So what’s the big deal about the Microsoft “Secure Boot” ? Well, besides Apple computers, the only new computers Canadians will find on the retail shelves will be loaded with Windows 8.

DRM (Digital Restrictions Managemnt) — what they called TPMs (Technological Protection Measures) in Canada’s shiny new Copyright Act — is what makes it “Secure Boot” or “Restricted Boot” software.

Once Canada’s “modernized” Copyright Act goes into force, it will become illegal for Canadians to circumvent TPMs (DRM). Canadians who circumvent Microsoft’s Secure Boot TPMs by loading a free software Operating System on our own computers will be breaking the law.

This work by Erik Steinmann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Although most people reading this are likely to be old enough to remember it, the title of this article is a play on the title of Nancy Sinatra‘s “These Boots Are Made For Walking


2 thoughts on “These Boots Aren’t Made for Walkin’

  1. I’m a year late, but great article!

    If you don’t mind I want to add a few points as I’m in the business:

    If you see a new computer in the store with a sticker on it saying something like “Windows 8 Certified”, this means it definitely has Secure Boot, it is the requirement for them to be allowed to put that sticker on it. If it just says “Windows 8 Ready”, it might have Secure Boot, but it’s not for sure.

    Secure Boot might work with some versions of Linux now, but only if two conditions are met:
    1. The distro needs it’s own Secure Boot key, which currently not all distros have, and many may never have.
    2. Your computer’s BIOS needs to have an option in it that allows end-users to add their own Secure Boot keys, or else the original manufacturer would need to load all the Linux distros’ keys before shipping the computer, which I doubt any of them will do.

    Many systems that currently support Secure Boot have a BIOS option to disable Secure Boot completely. All the consumer ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards I’ve worked with have this option, but this is by no means a guarantee. I don’t know about the state of this in Laptops as I only deal with one Laptop manufacturer.

    Your best bet for now if you want to keep all Linux distros available for running on your new computers is to avoid the “Windows 8 Certified” computers, and check online before buying to make sure the computer you’re getting either doesn’t have Secure Boot (not many around anymore), or make sure it allows you to disable Secure Boot.

    I also wanted to explain why Linux computers are more expensive or the same price as Windows ones, since you say you don’t understand. It’s because Microsoft offers the large computer manufacturers and distributers very good discounts on copies of Windows, as long as they commit to selling some 90% Windows-only computers in their stores. Once Windows is on there, other software companies that make trialware and even spyware Windows software actually pay these manufacturers and distributers to install their programs on these computers before the customer buys. They even pay a premium for getting an icon on the desktop.

    There aren’t truely reliable sources for much of this information, since it’s part of the agreements that the companies that do this aren’t allowed to discuss the details, but if you talk to anyone in the industry you will hear all about this stuff regularly.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing info about Secure Boot, I’m concerned about it too.

    *Short shameless plug* I’m the owner of a Canadian online computer store that specializes in Linux, No OS, and Windows computers, and I have not signed any of these shady agreements, so if you’re interested, look up Jeremy Carter’s Computer Service and Sales to find some powerful new computers for sale. Dual boot available at no extra charge and Microsoft only gets paid if you opt for Windows.

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