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You are here: Home FSF News Free Software Foundation warns about the danger of computers becoming Windows-only, calls for signatures to defend the freedom to install free software

Free Software Foundation warns about the danger of computers becoming Windows-only, calls for signatures to defend the freedom to install free software

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Oct 17, 2011 03:07 PM
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Monday, October 17, 2011 — The Free Software Foundation (FSF) released a statement open for public signing, titled "Stand up for your freedom to install free software."

The statement, published at http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/secure-boot-vs-restricted-boot/statement, is a response to Microsoft's announcement that if computer makers wish to distribute machines with the Windows 8 compatibility logo, they must implement a system called "Secure Boot." The FSF statement warns against the danger that, if done wrong, this system would have to be called Restricted Boot, because it could make computers incapable of running anything but Windows.

The technology in question aims to protect against malware by preventing unauthorized operating systems components from booting. Stopping unauthorized tampering could be a feature, says the FSF, but only so long as it doesn't prevent users from intentionally running and modifying free software. If the boot system works in this fashion, then it deserves the name many are already calling it, "Secure Boot."

However, the FSF is concerned that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers will implement the system in a way that will prevent users from booting anything other than Windows. In this case, the FSF offers the more accurate name of Restricted Boot, explaining that such a requirement would be a severe restriction on computer users and, by giving only a remote third party control over what's authorized to run on their computers, not a security feature at all.

"We're looking at a world in which it could become impossible for the average user to install GNU/Linux on any new computer, so too much is at stake for us to wait and see if computer manufacturers will do the right thing. Secure Boot could all too easily become a euphemism for restriction and control by computer makers and Microsoft — freedom and security necessitate users being in charge of their own computers," said FSF executive director, John Sullivan.

Those signing the FSF's statement urge all computer makers implementing this system to resist any pressure to adopt Restricted Boot:

We, the undersigned, urge all computer makers implementing UEFI's so-called "Secure Boot" to do it in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security, manufacturers must either allow computer owners to disable the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way for them to install and run a free software operating system of their choice.

Signers of the statement commit to "neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom," and to "actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems."

"I have been astounded by the number of people reaching out to us from all over the world, asking us to help build awareness and put pressure on computer manufacturers," said FSF campaigns manager, Joshua Gay. He added that "some of the people who contacted us expressed their nightmarish scenario of having even more hardware being tossed in landfills as a result of this," referring to the popular trend of reviving older hardware with GNU/Linux — something that would no longer be possible if more computers were locked by design into only running Windows.

A more detailed overview of the issue can be found at http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/secure-boot-vs-restricted-boot/.

Organizations interested in adding a prominent notice of their support should contact Joshua Gay at campaigns@fsf.org.

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About Free Software and Open Source

The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.

Media Contacts

Joshua Gay
Campaigns Manager
Free Software Foundation
Phone: +1 (617) 542 5942 x20
Email: campaigns@fsf.org

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