Friday FOSS Week in Review
The biggest news this week has centered around fears that Linux may become uninstallable on Wintel machines from the big OEM’s. But there’s been more. Some fun stuff. Some silly stuff. Some stuff that might eventually develop into something important…
Secure Boot Has Penguinistas Buzzing
Last week on FWIR I mentioned there was a storm beginning to brew around Windows 8 and secure boot, which could potentially keep Linux from being installed on some computers once they’re implemented. Well, it’s not just brewing anymore, it’s a full fledged storm with hurricane force winds.
After Microsoft passed the buck and attempted to pooh-pooh the issue as simple Linux paranoia, Red Hat engineer Matthew Garrett fired back on his blog, which was then picked-up in an article posted Monday on The Register:
“Garrett said that Windows 8 certification requires that hardware ship with UEFI secure boot enabled. A feature allowing secure boot to be disabled – necessary to run Linux and FreeBSD on certified systems – is not required for certification. ‘We’ve already been informed by hardware vendors that some hardware will not have this option,’ Garrett writes in a flow-up blog post to his original critique of the technology.
“In addition, Windows 8 certification does not require that the system ship with any keys other than Microsoft’s. Such systems will only securely boot Microsoft operating systems.
“‘A system that ships with Microsoft’s signing keys and no others will be unable to perform secure boot of any operating system other than Microsoft’s,’ Garrett writes. ‘No other vendor has the same position of power over the hardware vendors. Red Hat is unable to ensure that every OEM carries their signing key. Nor is Canonical. Nor is Nvidia, or AMD or any other PC component manufacturer.'”
After this, all heck broke loose. The next day, Jeff Hoogland posted a blog downplaying the importance of the secure boot feature on Linux and defending Microsoft:
“Microsoft is simply adding a feature to their operating system. What do I mean by pointing this out? Simply that if a market lockout does happen at the hardware level it is the hardware makers you need to be outraged at. Just as easily as they can give their hardware key to Microsoft they can also give it to Linux distributions. In fact it will ultimately be up to the hardware maker whether they have secure boot enabled in their hardware at all.
“Meaning that if you are really worried about the future of this feature – start contacting hardware vendors and stop attacking Microsoft for adding a feature to their operating system. In reality only time will tell what will happen with the addition of this feature to Windows 8.
“I don’t see anyone getting outraged at Google because they allow device makers to lock down ARM hardware. In fact ARM hardware is one of the hardest things around to install an alternative operating system to. Where is the outrage over this if we really want to see true software freedom for all devices?”
Today, the story became even more interesting when a writer using the handle “memenode” noted on Tech-FAQ that even if the hardware folks made signing keys available, secure boot can’t be implemented from within a GPL application under the terms of the license:
“…Linux vendors could certify a key to be used with UEFI secure boot and include this key in Linux boot loaders so they can pass this security checkpoint. The important thing here is that this key needs to stay secret, and the only way to make sure it stays secret while distributing it as part of Linux boot loaders is for it to be in binary form (no source code).
“This is where we get to the core of the issue. Most commonly used Linux boot loaders, GRUB and GRUB2 are licensed under GPL, a license which denies embedding proprietary code in it, and requiring a secret key to function. GRUB2 is licensed under GPLv3 which makes this explicitly denied, whereas it is a gray area in GPLv2. As gray as it may be, however, exploiting it would run against the spirit of the license which is what fueled the strictness in GPLv3 to begin with.
“In other words, making Linux boot loaders work with secure boot would require breaking their licensing requirements, and arguably the spirit of Free Open Source Software as well.”
This becomes even more interesting due to the fact that soon Linux will be taking care of it’s own booting. What kind of workaround will Mr. Torvalds find for this that doesn’t evoke the ire of RMS? The good news is that LILO, that old workhorse of a bootloader from old, has been back in development for about a year now. As it’s licensed under the BSD, it can implement secure boot.
As a free software advocate, I have to say that the secure boot feature is just plain wrong. I’m all for security, and protecting the boot process is becoming increasingly important, but this is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. It’s one thing for an operating system such as Windows to require digital signatures for things to work within the system; it’s quite another when your computer won’t run without the cooperation of a hardware vendor that might have gone out of business years ago.
I do think the folks in Redmond are up to no good here. I’ll let you in on my suspicions on Monday or Tuesday. Stay tuned…
Two New Linux Mobil OSes in the Works
It seems like only yesterday that Intel was telling us they remain committed to MeeGo. Well, on Wednesday ars technica informed us that Intel’s saying that MeeGo’s out, to be replaced by a new Linux-based mobile OS, Tizen. They’re partnering with Samsung on this:
“Intel’s Imad Sousou discussed the transition from MeeGo to Tizen last night in a statement on the official MeeGo blog. He contends that the new plan for an HTML-based mobile environment necessitated a clean break. He doesn’t believe that MeeGo could have evolved to fulfill the technical requirements of the new vision.
“‘Why not just evolve MeeGo? We believe the future belongs to HTML5-based applications, outside of a relatively small percentage of apps, and we are firmly convinced that our investment needs to shift toward HTML5. Shifting to HTML5 doesn’t just mean slapping a web runtime on an existing Linux, even one aimed at mobile, as MeeGo has been,’ he wrote. ‘Over the next couple of months, we will be working very hard to make sure that users of MeeGo can easily transition to Tizen.’
“It’s still not totally clear whether Tizen marks a new beginning or is merely an exercise in rebranding MeeGo to diffuse the stink of rejection that was left by Nokia’s departure. Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, revealed in a blog entry that some existing MeeGo technologies will be adopted in Tizen.”
Meanwhile, we got news yesterday that Intel’s old MeeGo partner, Nokia, is also developing a new Linux-based mobile OS. According to eWeek, they’re working on Meltemi OS to be used in feature phones:
“One might have expected Nokia to eschew its interest in Linux entirely now that it’s a tight partner with Microsoft, but the Wall Street Journal reports the Finnish phone vendor is now working on another new Linux-based OS. ‘Meltemi’ is expected to run on its feature phones in place of the aging Symbian, says the story.
The Meltemi project is being led by Nokia Executive Vice President Mary McDowell, a source told the publication. Nokia declined to comment to the WSJ, which offered few additional details.
In April, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop was said to have mentioned a Meltemi project in a leaked memo picked up by the Register. At the time, Meltemi was considered to be related to Windows Phone, however. Now, it appears that Meltemi may instead be an offshoot of Nokia’s long-time Maemo Linux project, but aimed at feature phones instead of mini-tablets and high-end smartphones.
I’ve got to admit, I’m a little confused. I thought the evil empire was pouring a billion dollars into Nokia and that the Finnish company was putting all their eggs in the WP7 basket. I guess they’re doubling down, in case the Windows phone doesn’t work out.
A Full Year of LibreOffice
When The Document Foundation was formed to create LibreOffice a year ago, I fully expected for the project to quickly be folded back into OpenOffice. Of course, I was expecting Oracle to adopt an intelligent stance and for Larry Ellison to act like an adult. Silly me, I should’ve known.
Anyway, here it is a year later. Everyone I know uses LibreOffice, no one I know uses OpenOffice, and no one I know is willing to trust Oracle even a little bit anymore.
Happy birthday, LibreOffice! I know you’ll have many more.
Hans Reiser Seeks New Trial
Remember ReiserFS, the file system for Linux developed by Hans Reiser? I was always meaning to give it a try someday. Then, Hans Reiser got himself arrested, badly botched his trial and ended up getting a sentence of 15 to life for killing his wife in Oakland, California.
Yesterday Wired reported that Hans is seeking a new trial, claiming that he was forced to take the stand by his lawyers. I wish him good luck with that.
Samsung and Apple Battles Continue
At this point, I’m really glad the mobile tech firms don’t have armies. It’s nasty enough as it is with all the fighting taking place within the relatively civilized confines of courthouses. At least now Samsung in on the offense, rattling their patent sabers and seeking injunctions against iPhone.
Monday found the duo in a district court in The Hague, Netherlands. At issue are four Samsung patents Apple evidently violates. Samsung is asking for licensing money from Apple and is also seeking an injunction to keep iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, iPad 2, and other products out of Europe until licensing terms are set. It’s expected the judge will issue a ruling on October 14, the day after another injunction banning the import of three Samsung Galaxy models is scheduled to begin.
In addition to this case, Samsung and Apple are currently engaged in legal battles in Asia and North America as well.
Given Enough Monkeys and Enough Typewriters….
I just couldn’t let this slide by unnoticed. You know the old adage, if you have enough monkeys and enough typewriters eventually you’ll get the complete works of Shakespeare? Well, the BBC is reporting this to be true and practically a done deal – if you allow for a little leeway in the way the adage is put to the test.
In this case, the monkey’s aren’t real but are virtual (a word that seems to have a different meaning now than it did when I was a kid). We’re also not asking these virtual monkeys to type Hamlet all the way through from beginning to end. The “monkeys” spit out nine character chunks, which are then checked against the Bard’s output for a match. If a match is found, it’s cut and pasted in it’s proper place. To dumb it down even further, spaces and punctuation aren’t used.
Although the methodology might seem more than a little like cheating, the Beeb points out it’s a necessary adjustment, as any nine character string in English contains about 5.5 trillion possible combinations:
“Mathematicians said the constraints Mr Anderson introduced to the project mean he will complete it in a reasonable amount of time.
“‘If he’s running an evolutionary approach, holding on to successful guesses, then he’ll get there,’ said Tim Harford, popular science writer and presenter of the BBC’s radio show about numbers More or Less.
“And without those constraints?
“‘Not a chance,’ said Dr Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick.
“His calculations suggest it would take far, far longer than the age of the Universe for monkeys to completely randomly produce a flawless copy of the 3,695,990 or so characters in the works.
“‘Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on,’ he said. ‘Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did.'”
I guess this means that a bunch of monkeys locked in a room with typewriters would type Running Linux long before they’d get Shakespeare finished. Actually, probably their typewriters would break down first. In this day and age, you’ll never find a typewriter repairman.
Well, that does it for this week. I’ll see you on Monday. Until then, may the FOSS be with you….