Linux fans file ACCC complaint over Win8 boot


news A number of Australian Linux users have filed a formal complaint with the national competition regulator over what many perceive to be restrictive practices introduced in upcoming Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system which may stop many mass-market computers from being able to boot alternatives such as Linux.

Microsoft recently revealed it would support a PC booting protocol named the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) in Windows 8. The move was broadly seen as positive, as it will increase the security of PCs as well as doing away with the legacy limited BIOS platform which underlies operating systems like Windows and Linux on computers today.

However, Microsoft’s move immediately got sections of the open source community up in arms, as it has the potential to lock out rival operating systems from being installed on PCs from the likes of manufacturers such as Dell, HP and Lenovo — unless those manufacturers explicitly work with the Linux community to support a number of different versions of Linux.

Unlike with Windows, there are at least hundreds of popular versions of Linux in use today — compared to just a handful of Windows versions.

Australian Linux users have been discussing the issue on a mailing list belonging to the Linux Australia organisation this week, and in an email sent yesterday (first reported by, local Linux user Russell Stuart confirmed he had taken action on the matter, writing to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has said hardware vendors wanting to use the “Compatible with Windows 8″ logo must turn on secure booting in their BIOS’s, and must ship with Microsoft’s keys,” Stuart told the ACCC in his complaint. “As Windows commands over 85% of the desktop marketplace it seems likely all will seek to comply.”

“To cut costs and speed time to market some manufacturers will do the bare minimum Microsoft insists on, which happens to mean the PC will only run Microsoft products. Microsoft could have achieved the additional security without undermining competition in the market place by insisting on the full implementation of the UEFI secure boot specification in order to qualify for the Windows 8 logo. I believe it is in the best interests of Australian consumers the that ACCC seek to enforce this.”

According to Stuart’s email, the ACCC responded with a standardised form letter, noting that while the situation he had described may raise issues of “exclusive dealing” on Microsoft’s part, it was unclear yet from the detailed provided whether the problem would meet the test for anti-competitive behaviour.

In addition, the regulator noted, it could not take action on all complaints, with a variety of factors — such as whether there appeared to have been a breach of the Competition Act and whether the problem was “serious and widespread” — guiding how it approached each issue.

“The Act also allows an affected party to take their own legal action for a breach of the Act,” wrote the regulator. “You may wish to seek legal advice on the possibility of taking your own action in this circumstance.” Several other users on the Linux Australia mailing list received exactly the same response from the ACCC as Stuart, but others are still filing similar complaints with the regulator.

To be honest, I really do not expect the ACCC to take any action whatsoever with regard to the UEFI booting problem in Windows 8. The market share of Linux and any other operating system that runs on an x86 desktop architecture is way too small for the regulator to pay any notice about the situation.

Mac OS X doesn’t count as a problem in this situation … because Apple’s software is tied directly to its hardware. Never seen a BIOS prompt of any kind on your iMac or MacBook? Yeah. Apple doesn’t believe in those.

However, I do expect Microsoft to eventually take some action to resolve this problem and help out the Linux community. Redmond has proven itself to be a different beast in recent years from the bad old days when it used to deal with the open source revolution with a fist of steel. Today the company is more than open to working with what Eric Raymond would term “the Bazaar”. One can only hope someone at Microsoft (and its partners) pays attention to this issue before it’s too late.

Certainly, I personally would never buy a PC or laptop which I couldn’t install whatever operating system I wanted on. And I know many other people who feel the same way. If Microsoft doesn’t resolve this issue in a reasonable fashion … it will be the target of ongoing rage from geeks worldwide until it does.

Image credit: Microsoft


  1. The other simple observation is, how many people who run Linux variants on their PCs would buy a machine from HP, Dell, etc anyway?

    Sure, there’s a bit of an argument that this could stop Linux going mainstream. But they’ve been saying that’s going to happen for years now and it hasn’t.

    • Given Dell and HP are the two largest PC manufacturers, I’d say quite a few.

      In fact, Dell certifies some of their models as compatible with specific linux distributions. That guarantee of hardware support probably gets them a larger share of the linux market than many other manufacturers.

      • The thing is, Linux isn’t just for desktop users, although I would say probably most people who are using Linux are using it on a desktop PC. There’s also laptops. And if you want a decent laptop, you really are restricted to the major manufacturers. In Wintel that means Dell, HP, Lenovo etc. I know a stack of people who run Linux on a ThinkPad, for example.

        These days, you can pretty much install Ubuntu on any PC shipped by anyone and it’ll almost universally work our of of the box, has been my experience. UEFI would change all of that.

        • Most Linux users use it on Desktops?

          What about routers, cellphones, TVs, DVD players/recorders, etc etc etc?

          • Well, yes, but I was talking about in the context of computing, not embedded systems ;) I’m talking laptops versus desktops, which are the only real systems with traditional BIOSes which would be affected by this ;)

  2. What’s this got to do with Microsoft? It’s going to up to the OEMs to decide whether supporting Linux is worth it or not.

    • I don’t agree. In this case, Microsoft needs to work with the manufacturers and Linux developers to work out a common solution. Faced with dozens of different version of Linux (perhaps hundreds) which they need to support with signatures, there is no way most of the manufacturers will take the responsible approach to this.

  3. “Never seen a BIOS prompt of any kind on your iMac or MacBook? Yeah. Apple doesn’t believe in those.”

    Hold Command-Option-O-F on boot

      • it’s very difficult to get to the bootloader/BIOS ( it’s called EFI on modern Macs ) but you can see it if you hold command + s.

        It’s also the stuff that powers letting you choose which drive you boot from when you hold alt as it loads up.

        • errr…. no, I have two macs and command + s will just boot single user mode/Darwin’s command line UNIX mode (OSX without the GUI part) that is not the bios. It’s also not the bootloader. It’s Mac OSX itself, just without the Aqua/Quartz environment loaded.

  4. The chromebooks also uses UEFI. They have an option to disable “secure boot”.

    I’d imagine the hardware vendors who want the “win8” sticker will also include this option.

    I’m sure the US DOJ is also keeping an eye out…

    • I’ve seen some reports that in the Windows 8 case, the option to turn off secure boot will be disabled, which is a shame, as it would resolve the issue completely, pretty much.

      • The MSDN Blog post clarifying the MS position on this says that “It’s completely up to the hardware vendors to implement a work around.” (paraphrasing). Which is fair enough as they only sell software.

        The hardware vendors have a vested interest in supporting as many platforms as they can (inc. older versions of windows) and MS doesn’t need the anti-trust attention. Linux simply isn’t a threat to them on the desktop.

        You have to also consider all the enterprise stuff that relies on PXE boot. Those have to be accommodated for. Every vendor that wants to sell to businesses will have a way to disable ‘safe boot’.

        • I don’t think this is up to the hardware vendors; Microsoft typically sets pretty hardcore standards for running Windows. I don’t think the likes of HP, Dell etc are controlling the platform — they are more trying to conform.

          • Microsoft are on the record stating that it is up to the hardware vendors to decide whether or not they allow secure boot to be disabled, ie MS don’t really care one way or the other. So unless you think MS are telling porkies, it very much is up to the hardware vendors.

  5. I applaud and support anyone making an effort to educate the ACCC however up until now it has generally been a waste of time, at least in regards the I.T. industry. The ACCC simply has no interest in considering Microsoft’s monopoly position, they’d rather chase Telstra (who, admittedly, deserve it too).

  6. This really isn’t anything to do with Microsoft. Sure, Windows 8 will have a signed bootloader and kernel, but that doesn’t mean they’re forcing EFI manufacturers to lock down their boot process.

    To me, it just doesn’t make sense why everyone is targeting Microsoft. The EFI manufacturers are the ones that will be making secure boot mandatory or not. The UEFI spec doesn’t state that they need to have an option to disable secure boot, but again, how is this the fault of Microsoft?

    Think of it like this; if you’re working for a company that restricts your ability to run programs on your machine except for Internet Explorer, do you blame Microsoft or the IT department?

    • History is rife with examples of Microsoft doing back-room deals with manufacturers to get what they want. There is little doubt in the industry that this is more of the same.

      The good news is that this has to be the last, albeit weak, hope Microsoft has of pushing Palladium.

    • “This really isn’t anything to do with Microsoft… how is this the fault of Microsoft?”

      Perhaps you were unaware that Microsoft had a dominant position creating the UEFI spec?

      Microsoft cannot evade moral or legal responsibility for illegal anti-competitive acts simply because they held up a sock puppet to be “responsible” for half of it. Microsoft can’t say “Sorry, not my fault, I was just doing what the sock puppet told me to do, and I was just *forcing* computer manufacturers to do what the sock puppet told them to do.”

      • What rubbish. Whether or not Microsoft created the UEFI spec in part or in full has nothing to do with it – the spec does not state that “Linux cannot run on this machine” or “secure boot may not be disabled”. Furthermore, Microsoft does not manufacture PCs so even if one is made which does not allow secure boot to be disabled, what specific action do you expect Microsoft to take? They didn’t design it or build it or sell it, so… what do they do?

        This entire action doesn’t make any sense, especially in light of the fact that “Windows 8” PCs don’t even exist yet.

        • Microsoft has been there already (U.S. dept. of Justice trial) so they know how sneaky they must be to avoid any obvious smoking-gun.

          The facts are that UEFI (made by Microsoft as THE major contributor) is once again illegally (collusion, cartel, bribes) excluding the competition – a game played by Microsoft during the past 3 decades.

          Fun to see how many Microsoft employees are posting denials of wrong-doings.

          • “The facts are that UEFI … is once again illegally … excluding the competition”

            Except you can’t point to a single instance of this actually happening. An interesting definition of “facts” you have there.

            “Fun to see how many Microsoft employees are posting denials of wrong-doings.”

            LOL it seems Delimiter has its very own tinfoil-hat brigade now. Bravo!

          • Jeremy, I agree that this is very much a Microsoft problem, albeit not one where they are consciously being evil. They are attempting to innovate and push the PC as a platform forward within the paradigm they are used to. But the fact that the PC has been a more or less stable platform for several decades now is constraining their forward progress. It’s a case where the entire industry needs to move forward. In some senses it’s actually really good that Microsoft has kicked off the discussion.

        • “This entire action doesn’t make any sense, especially in light of the fact that “Windows 8″ PCs don’t even exist yet.”

          Windows 8 PCs = Windows 7 PCs, basically. Most of the specs are the same, that I can see. Sure, there’s some touchscreen stuff in there, but nobody will be supporting that for a while.

    • Time for a car analogy;
      What a nice car you have there, it would be a shame if something happened to it, of course if you pay us for some protection money we’ll make sure nothing happens.

      MS has some very clear requirements on being windows certified and it would not surprise me if OEM licenses cost more on non-certified hardware. That those requirements make it more difficult for Linux is just a coincidence I’m sure.

      • “That those requirements make it more difficult for Linux is just a coincidence I’m sure.”

        This conspiracy theory stuff is a bit silly. Trying to turn this story into a vast plot against Linux on the desktop would only make sense if Linux was even capable of threatening Windows in that space. As it stands that’s simply laughable, and I’m sure there are plenty of people at Microsoft having a little chuckle over this storm in a teacup.

        To put it bluntly: Microsoft simply does not care if a handful of hobbyists want to install Linux on their PCs. Why would they? How does it serve their interests to intentionally block it? Their strategy of basically ignoring Linux seems to be working out fine so far.

        • You say a hand full people use Linux. Man you do need to catch up with the times check on how many governments and education departments have dumped windows. When one Linux distribution had over 16,000 downloads in a week from home users, they are catching on fast,
          Check out Brazil for instance All their government and education departments have moved over in 2009 to Linux, Russia by 2015 will be all Linux, Spain and Italy government departments have moved to Linux Microsoft is loosing big time in the Business sectors as well as the desktop and let face the facts. if people had a choice instead of being forced to have windows when they buy a computer their choice would not be windows thats for sure

          With todays new MS have been pushed down into 3rd place in the IT sector IBM have now superseded MS. Microsoft’s shares have dropped 8.5% this month so they have to try something to stop the rot on their market share,

        • Jeremy, wow. “A handful of hobbiyists” is certainly easy to marginalise. I’ll point out that the *only* place MS has a monopoly is the desktop and is doing reasonably well in office servers. Neither of these markets is growing, and both are set for major disruption. Why do you think MS rushed out Office 365 (or is it 363 :)).

          Everywhere else, Linux is already market leader or is on it’s way to getting there in pretty much every other computing area (HPC, cloud, web, embedded, smartphones, tablets). MS has a very high profile, but rather limited monopoly, and it’s only going to decline. MS are doing everything they can to ensure they hold onto it as long as they can – their shareholders would accept nothing less.

          Ever wonder why the production-ready ARM smartbooks demo’d by ASUS/Pegatron at Computex 2009 – with tremendous bat life, build quality, etc. never launched? They only ran Linux. Microsoft didn’t like it one bit. They had a chat to ASUStek’s CEO… and he withdrew them from market, even apologising for demoing them at the trade show. I guess ASUS is very sensitive to the price that MS charges for Windows licenses for the rest of its PC and laptop business… “Nice business you got there… be a shame if anything happened to it”.

          MS is nothing if not clever at coming up with strategic directions that might conceivably be in the market’s best interest, but are *actually* primarily in its own best interest. Clever, but not necessarily morally acceptable.

          • “”A handful of hobbiyists” is certainly easy to marginalise.”

            Heh, I thought I might ruffle a few feathers with that one. ;)

            “I’ll point out that the *only* place MS has a monopoly is the desktop”

            Agreed, but this whole issue is specific to the desktop (ie off-the-shelf consumer grade PCs). People buying hardware for their Linux server farm will spec their machines accordingly. UEFI on a server machine locks out Linux? That vendor won’t get sales from a large proportion of customers. It will be fixed very quickly.

            Once again, I say that Linux is not a threat to Windows on the desktop, and if you compare the installed base it’s not far off the mark to say Linux users are “a handful of hobbyists” from Redmond’s perspective. (Oh and LOL at the above post pointing out that a Linux distro was downloaded 16000 times in a week. MS has customers that buy more Windows licenses than that in one go). It just doesn’t make sense to say that Microsoft are engaging in nefarious actions in order to destroy Linux. Why would they bother? Some perspective is needed here.

    • LOL I remember that, a huge nerd-rage protest over Microsoft building DRM technology into Vista which would intentionally hobble the PC any time you tried to watch a video or listen to music that Microsoft doesn’t think is above board. And then Vista was released and it turned out the DRM stuff amounted to basically nothing. I’ve consumed huge amounts of “questionable” content on Vista/Win7 machines and never once seen the behaviour that was described.

      I’m sure this latest nerd outrage is totally legit though.

      • That would be becuase of all that nerd rage. I was one of the beta tester of Vista, that had exactly that happen to them. The nerd rage beta tester had fit over that and guess what, MS decided to fix it. We still have the occasional issue with that on 7 with Monitors getting disabled for no apparent reason.

        • “and guess what, MS decided to fix it.”

          So you agree the whole thing was a storm in a teacup. I contend that this is much the same.

          • Oh yeah, all that stuff with full end-to-end hardware encryption, with so much development effort wasted on that encrippletion c**p (completely revised driver layers in Vista and beyond) that initial launch of Vista ended up with severely reduced customer acceptance, most likely due to missing out on actual customer-desired *other* features… “storm in a teacup” indeed. Next time, could we please have a meaningful discussion?

  7. I think that this is a red herring. If you do not verify your computer does what you would like it to do return the damn thing and get a machine that will . I believe the
    new boot system will break with a little poke and peeking about
    good luck all

      • Those that can’t “poke and peek” aren’t going to be installing Linux, are they?

  8. The fact that Linux, a high quality OS used by manufacturers in many professional systems and consumer products, also the OS of Android, has a so low market in consumer PC’s share proves the ACCC did not do it’s job properly in the past and should be no motivation to not do it now.

    • I don’t really think the ACCC is responsible for ensuring Linux’s market share … it’s job is to more stop anti-competitive behaviour ;)

  9. Linux might not be on many Pcs yet. Fact is that Linux is not geeky anymore.Linux operating systems are easyer to install and maintain then any Mycrosoft operating system.
    Linux is safer.
    Universities, the scientific community, google and Nasa are all using Linux. Anybody who has an Android phone uses linux. Apple operating systems are based on Unix! Linux is based on
    Unix. The only thing a windows operating system can do better is play games. That would change as soon as people would use more Linux operating systems and games would be written for, or ported to Linux.
    The only reason Microsoft is still swimming is because they have the $s to use for propaganda (Advertisement).
    Linux does not cost any money!!
    Microsoft has lost the mobile phone, tablet markets to Apple (Unix), Android (Linux).
    Microsoft is scared. People are getting ripped of.
    Microsoft will fight dirty! (Just google Microsoft Lawsuits)
    The ACCC better listen soon.
    Lawsuits will follow. I am sure!
    In the words of the late, great Bob Marley:
    You can fool some people sometime. You cannot fool all the people all the time.

  10. You don’t think M$ will put enough pressure on the OEM’s to make them do it Billy’s way? Of course the blame is totally on M$, but who cares? It was never in Linus’s mind to take all market share away from M$, and still isn’t. If M$ shoots their foot off, who cares? I’ll keep running Linux without dual-booting with M$. Another thing to think about are the “crackers” out there who are looking forward to this challenge. Go Crackers.

  11. It has been mentioned “compatible with windows 8” lol…all linux are supported and compatible with windows 8 too :D

  12. Theres the thing, People dont pay for linux.. pretty sure a fair few dont pay for M$ either..

    I know id rather a linux system than a win8 system .. *holds his win98se cds close*
    wIntel are blocking competition at a hardware level…
    There is more than one way to win(rig) a race.

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