UEFI, or the Age of Useless Computers…

Your next Intel x86 computer with UEFI secure boot…

Much has been said of the UEFI and one of its features, the Secure Boot. The launch of  windows 8 is near , and the UEFI is just around the corner.

UEFI is the talk of the town, but what is it?
It is a specification of a software layer between the old computer’s BIOS and the operating system.
Intel created the specification to solve various problems in its 64-bit Itanium platform, those problems caused by incompatibilities with the old BIOS, which was designed for a 16-bit architecture.
It will replace almost entirely the calls to the BIOS, for all operating system services.
Yes, it would be very interesting to do this, since our old BIOS is more than 30 years old.
It turns out that, currently, no  operating system makes calls to the BIOS anymore. They all have routines for interfacing with the hardware already built-in, the BIOS only works at boot (memory test, and that’s about it).

Specifications inspired by Windows …
Exactly when the UEFI was thought, its design was very similar to that of Microsoft Windows, with calls for protocols and practices inspired by the Microsoft product.
Interesting, no? Does it look like something made for everyone? No, no, but one thing made for  just a few to benefit  just a few.

How UEFI works
The UEFI would work more or less like this:

That is, would be present in all the user’s system, like a shadow controlling everything.
But if this is something that comes from Intel and Microsoft, what is there to fear? Much as it is a black box running inside your computer, and with the ability of a complete operating system.
Hence, very interesting questions are raised, since no one knows what is inside UEFI, unlike the good old BIOS, which is already very well known (and documented).


But, The Security UEFI Brings is what matters…
Ha, how nice it would be if it were true. But, as it has already happened ( The FLAME malware has been spreading with valid keys from MS) ​​is all a big crock. And, as mentioned here, the possibility of an attack at boot time is almost nonexistent.


But So What’s the grand plan to use the Secure Boot and UEFI?
Intel is suffering from a heavy attack of the ARM platform. ARM chips are ubiquitous, they are in mobile phones to video games, and now are entering the server room.
Microsoft is not doing well also, its windows XP system is still the most widely used worldwide, after almost three years of the release of Seven, and five years of the release of Vista.
Microsoft already knows that windows 8 will flop, so with the help of Secure Boot, it will lock the machines so that only its operating systems will be allowed to run, do not allowing users to know that there are other options, and much better, an attempt to freeze the market waiting for their next OS, 9.

What to do to fight this fierce competition?
Simple, use a standard and exclude the competitors from the standard. And the restricted UEFI boot fits perfectly there.
Consumers are choosing smartphones and tablets (with ARM chips) over x86 desktop computers. How could Intel  leverage its sales?
Easy, to sell more  x86 processors, just make computers that have a shorter lifespan. Hence, it will force consumers to buy more and more x86 computers.

Now, Apple already does this, with machines that are not repairable nor upgradeable (the latest MacBook Air comes with welded memories, so, not even memory is possible to add to it).
The next step for rapid obsolescence: An operating system slow, bloated and that drags the machine, coupled with applications with useless options – Anyone for Office 15 ? (for, obviously, make the whole system more cumbersome and slow).

Let’s face it, a computer with windows lasts no more than three years. After that, or it must be added more memory, or more HD or a more powerful processor (if possible).
Add to that the fact one can not install any other operating system to the machine, and you have a beautiful pile of useless junk.

Now, I wonder if this little UEFI secure boot detail Intel will also push in its server market.
I doubt it, since Intel is doing very well in the server market, mostly thanks to the Linux distros. It’s something they want to push down the throats of the domestic consumer and SOHO.
And, with Intel, Apple and Microsoft doing the same thing, this practice will become a standard.

What Can Happen?
Many things can happen. One that will certainly occur, is to increase the ignorance of the average user regarding  Information Technology, which is not good, thanks to Microsoft and Apple, and will only tend to worsen. Imagine a Fahrenheit 451 world where books are banned, and most of the population lives in complete ignorance, where few can read and remember the culture and the old books (I have not read the book, just watched the wonderful film by François Truffaut, but the overwhelming impact of the message makes you think, a lot).
And worse, students of Information Technology related matters(software, hardware, computer science), will have their hands tied, they will not be able to experiment with their hardware / software and learn from it.
Imagine, there won’t be a next Linus Torvalds, because he can not run an operating system made by the user in his/her computer. And no  next Steve Jobs also, since he began building computers in the Homebrew Computer Club. This will be a thing of the past.
Increase the junk in the world, the e-waste, since the machines will have a lifespan much shorter, it surely will happen. So long greencomputing.

But As For the time being, UEFI Secure Boot is not Mandatory…
Exactly, but with so many laws being passed by fear of terrorism or as protection of intellectual property (ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, etc …) how long to be illegal to run programs (and operating systems) not authorized by the vendors / manufacturers?
Just remember, there are countries where making a legitimate copy of a DVD, for security purposes, is illegal.

And is there an Option?
Sure. And, a much better than UEFI. The CoreBoot, the free, open, auditable specification, made in partnership with the Open Source community and the company AMD.
And, its block diagram is as follows:

Extremely simple, unobtrusive and lightweight, CoreBoot covers several platforms: x86, ARM, and various operating systems: GNU / Linux, BSD, and even windows (with SeaBios).

Even Linus has spoken out against the UEFI (“It has few real advantages, and add a greater layer of complexity” – http://kerneltrap.org/node/6884).
Not to mention that the user has no control over it.

How  to Fight UEFI Secure Boot?
There are several ways.
1º Legally – Act to push investigation on the UEFI secure boot, to make the DOJ investigate anti-trust unheticall moves, by Microsoft and Intel.
2º Politically – Pressure on your congressmen, senators, legislators,  to do not allow to become a common practice restricting  the boot of the computers.
3º Boycott Intel and Microsoft (and all companies that sell machines with the UEFI secure boot). I do not like to advertise products or companies, but support  AMD, the  CoreBoot standard is supported by it, and do not buy from companies that offer machines that do not allow you to run your favorite distro.

Finally, a famous text (adapted to our Free, Libre and Open Source reality):


“First they came for Gentoo.


And I did not speak up because I don’t use Gentoo.


Then they came for Arch Linux


and I said nothing because I don’t use Arch Linux.


Later, they came for Slackware.


And I kept silence, because I don’t use Slackware.


Then they came for Pardus Linux.


And I remained silent because I don’t use Pardus Linux.


Finally, they came for  Puppy Linux


And then there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Adapted from Martin Niemoller – First they came …

Further reading:

“Uefi homepage.”: http://www.uefi.org/
“Gnufi homepage.”: http://www.gnu.org/software/gnufi/
Intel, “Beyond bios,” Intel Software Network, November 2008.
Jeremy, “Linus on the extensible firmware interface,” Julho de
2006. http://kerneltrap.org/node/6884
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface Specification, Version 2.3,
errata b ed., UEFI Forum
Fevereiro 2010.
  1. P. L., “New technology beefs up bios,” Computer, vol. 37, 2004.
Intel, “Intel platform innovation framework for uefi.”:
http://www.intel.com/technology/framework/index.htm

Windows RT to cost OEMs $85 per device in licensing fees?

According to VR-Zone, Microsoft’s Windows RT – the iteration of the Windows OS for ARM powered devices- will cost OEMs willing to load the software onto their devices between $85-$90 per device in licensing fees. According to the site, initial estimates were that Redmond would charge $35 but “the reality is that Windows RT will cost staggering USD$80-95 dollars, with $85 being the most commonly quoted price.”

At this price, we should expect to see Windows RT (sounds like retweet to me, really) tablets are going to be at par with the iPad rather than Android devices. With expected prices to range between $500-$900 for a device, it’s going to be interesting to see how Microsoft plans to take on both Android powered tablets and Apple‘s iPad.

A late to comer to the raging table battle, one would have expected a more overwhelming strategy from Microsoft to take on Android instead since it cuts across both the high and low spec’d spectrum, but instead they chose to go after the iPad. The next year is going to be really interesting in the tablet market for observers and consumers alike. 

Windows Phone 7? 5 Reasons Why I Have no Faith in it

In my last and final goodbye to Nokia, a commeter asked the question, “what about Windows Phone 7?” Indeed, all throughout the post, there was not one mention of Microsoft’s answer to both Android and iOS. Is it because I think WP7 is no match for the two dominant OSs? Or that because it’s from Microsoft? I don’t think so. WP7 for me, is not a viable contender for the following reasons

1. Lateness: I really don’t know what Redmond was doing when Google bought Android Inc back in 2005 or when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone back in 2007, but somehow they chose to turn a blind eye to the then budding ultra smartphone market and instead concentrate more on their desktop offering. As the adage goes, the early bird catches the worm, and both Google and Apple were those early birds. If Redmond had thrown down its gauntlet at that time with the introduction of WP7 then, at least they would stand a chance today.

2. Miscrosoft bullying: Rather than focus time and resources on marketing and making WP7 attractive to both developers and those who don’t want either iOS or Android, Microsoft prefers to spend its energy on  bullying Android OEMs into paying so called royalties for infringing never-shown Microsoft patents. But there’s no surprise here, it’s one of Microsoft’s hallmarks to use the bogus patent system as a trump card if it cannot compete. 

3. Nokia: Perhaps the biggest reason why WP7 will find it tough on the market is the unholy alliance with Nokia. For years, Nokia had been a company known to make profits by selling high volume, low cost “dumb” phones to hundreds of millions of people across the world. Now with WP7, it will have to focus on the highend spectrum of the market. With Elop giving Symbian just a few years more for “harvesting,” Nokia is left with WP7 as its primary OS. We don’t know when Meltemi will finally take the place of Symbian, but for now, we can safely assume Nokia is going to alienate its core market. 

To also hammer home the point of Nokia being a disaster for WP7, take a look at the press coverage the release of the N9 and N950 MeeGo powered devices enjoyed and compare them to the Nokia Lumia, even Engadget, an ultra Apple centric blog was drooling over the N9. The Lumia? Yawn. The market logically expected Nokia to overhaul Symbian and fire up MeeGo, not sell out to Redmond.

4. Apps, apps and apps: The Apple App Store and Android Markets both have hundreds of thousands of apps available for download. Think of anything and you’re likely to find an app for that in those two markets. WP7 is yet to catch up, and with Microsoft busily suing other OEMs rather than go all out to attract developers, it’s going to take an eternity for WP7 to reach the scale of Android and iOS in terms of apps. 

5. The OEMs just love Android: Why? Because it gives them the power to differentiate themselves completely from their competitors. Given its open nature, it is always easy and safe to model Android into anything one can think of, an example being what Amazon did with it on its Kindle Fire tablets. Which company would not love such an offering? It’s little wonder that even the home pages of almost all the device makers  readily feature Android phones, with WP7 a few clicks down the menu. I don’t know the extent of customization Microsoft allows the OEMs, but it sure will not be on the scale Google gives them with Android. 

There could be even more reasons why it’s going to be a monumentous act for WP7 to climb out of the bottom, but from where I sit, these are the 5 basic reasons I see which work well against Microsoft’s comeback in the mobile spectrum.

Secure Boot and your choice for Linux

Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu together with Red Hat, have weighed into the controversy surrounding the so called Secure Boot setup that requires OEMs to lock down your BIOS allowing only “approved” software to boot from it. This is of course being pushed by Microsoft.

The two companies today issued a white paper that seeks to educate Linux users about what the Secure Boot is and what it means for them. The paper also makes recommendations as to how to implement the Secure Boot to achieve its original goal of prevent security breaches while maintaining user freedom at the same time.

Any new Windows 8 PC will have Secure Boot switched “ON” when it leaves the shop and will be able to boot Microsoft approved software only. However, you will most likely find that your new PC has no option for you to add your own list of approved software. So to install Linux (or any other operating system), you will need to turn Secure Boot “OFF”…This is why we recommend that systems manufacturers include a mechanism for configuring your own list of approved software. This will allow you to run Windows 8 and Linux at the same time in your PC with Secure Boot “ON”. This should also include you being able to try new software from a USB stick or DVD.

This goes without say about the real motive behind why Microsoft is actively pushing for the Secure Boot. With a lot of people happily conceding ownership of their devices to the very manufacturers they bought the device from, a lot of education needs to be undertaken by Free Software companies to create awareness about the danger of this move.

And Microsoft came to the aid of disgruntled Blackberry users

The overly philanthropic and highly caring Microsoft corporation, having noticed the frustration of Research in Motion’s Blackberry users, has extended a helping hand to them. According to Windows Phone evangelist Ben Rudolph, Microsoft has 25 Windows Phones to give away to Blackberry users.

#DearBlackberry users, Frustrated with your BB? Tell me why you want to upgrade to a #windowsphone – I’ve got 25 to give away.

 via BenthePCguy 

How do you qualify? Well Rudolph says just tell him why you’d want to upgrade to a Windows Phone. Yup. Simple as that. So if you’re a frustrated Blackberry user, this might be your chance to jump ship…

Of Patent Cartels and a Rising Africa

The past couple of weeks has witnessed a lot of bickering among the global technology giants, with Google claiming Microsoft, Oracle and Apple are waging a war on Android through “bogus patents.”

As an ordinary person without any knowledge of the legal aspects of this highly complex issue of patents, I’m more interested in its broader effect on the creativity of the African continent. There currently is a renaissance (well soft of) going on here on the technology scene.

We are seeing a lot of startups doing amazing things with technology in their own small ways in Africa, an example being this Android powered tablet assembled in Nigeria (no it’s not an email scam) for instance. Of course it’s not at the level of the hypePad or the Galaxy tab, but it’s a step in the right direction for the continent.

However, giving the recent Apple injunction on the sale of the Samsung Galaxy tab in the EU, one cannot help but wonder when Apple and the other giants will turn their eyes on African startups and accuse them of the “slavish copying” of design and “look and feel.”

Keeping in mind that most of these companies in Africa are small in size, the question of whether they can actually battle with these patent cartels in court comes to mind. Samsung has deep enough pockets to fight Apple in court, but can Encipher do so? 

One may advance the argument that these nascent African firms command such an insignificant size of the overall market that the patent wielders will not deem it worthy to bully them. But what if these companies begin to grow? It’s worth noting that Africa is a market of close to 1 billion people, most of whom will have their first encounter with the internet on a handheld. 

It’s nigh impossible for any company starting life to navigate the patent offices to ascertain what belongs to who. In the meantime, we have these giants applying for as many patents as they can, some so vague as to mean almost nothing. The aim, to rake in licensing fees from competitors. Will the cartel kill creativity with time? Can a rising African tech scene navigate the almost treacherous sea of patent wolves? I guess only time will determine that. 

The N9 – A parting gift from Nokia before ending up in Microsoft stables?

The much awaited, “market disruption” MeeGo powered device promised us by Steven Elop, after his February 11 elopcalypse is out. And it brings with it more questions for both Nokia and potential buyers than answers.

Another N900?
As an N900 user, I found myself asking the question: what’s the guarantee that Nokia won’t pull another N900 on those that by the N9? After all the N9 runs Harmattan, a successor to Maemo 5. Is Nokia going to keep supporting this MeeGo baked Maemo after it starts shipping its WP7 line of devices?

If it suddenly decides to abandon it like the N900, is it going to keep the closed components of the code to itself such that independent developers cannot continue with support, just like on the N900?

To be fair to Nokia, the N9 packs some pretty impressive albeit not wowing specs in its slick design. But will that, coupled with the application development platform Qt be enough to lure developers to the phone? We wait to see.

Pacifying the bashers?
Is the release of the N9 more a pacification of the bashers of Nokia than anything to do with market share? It will not be far fetched to say it’ll be hard for the N9 to make any significant difference in the overall smartphone market. So then we ask the question, is this more of pacification of Nokia critiques than anything else.

Let’s not forget that after the Feb 11 elopcalypse, Steven Elop had to organize another press conference to clarify the first one thanks to the unprecendeted bashing of the company in the media; both main stream and the blogosphere. So is this phone just to pacify those voices?

Strategy fit?
It’s also very hard to see where in the currnt Nokia strategy (yes they do have one :D) that this release fits into. WP7 is the primary platform, Symbian will still lurk in the corner for a few years, and MeeGo was supposed to be the market disruption wedge.

But can the N9 really be described as a market disruption device? If the N9 should be a surprising success, will it cause Nokia to once again rethink its overall strategy such that Linux and open source once again get to be the center of the company’s business? How much resources is Elop willing to devote to the marketing of a Linux device seeing he owns a stake in Microsoft?

There are a lot of unanswered questions in the wake of the release of the N9. It wll be difficult to see how Nokia intends to market devices powered by two very separate and highly competitive platforms with starkly different ideologies and ecosystems.

When all is said and done thus, the conclusion that can be objectively reached is that the N9 is more a parting gift from Nokia to the Linux and open source world before its full immersion into the WP7 tide more than anything else.

But will the market agree?

2 Reasons Why Google Should Buy Ubuntu

In its apocalyptic battle with both Microsoft and Apple, there is one thing that both companies have that Google does not: a desktop OS. Chrome OS at best, is just a bridge OS. No matter how one looks at things today, there are hundreds of millions of machines out there powered by Windows or Mac OSX. 
I’m not sure we’ll all wake up one day and suddenly realise we’re living in the “cloud”. Google needs to equally have a traditional desktop OS, and I strongly suggest the purchase of Ubuntu Linux. Here’s why
Better competition with Microsoft
So Google’s Chrome OS is out. And it’s aimed at so called thin clients. That’s cool. But what about the “fat clients” that are in the majority today? Windows is Microsoft’s cash cow. To be able to compete with Redmond head on, Google would need to bring to the table not what it thinks people will be using in the future, but also a better alternative to what they are using today, until that elusive future is reached. 
Living in a part of the world where the cost of bandwidth is still on the high, it’s very difficult to see value in a cloud based OS other than the traditional one. There are also people and businesses that use Windows because either the Windows applications they depend on have no Linux alternatives or where there are, those alternatives don’t meet their requirements.
Google with its clout can get ISVs to port their applications to Linux. If the application my employer uses has a version for the Linux OS, why would I not evangelise it (Linux) to my bosses? Also, what’s the value in having Android/Chrome OS power smartphones/tablets/netbooks and when it comes to the desktop where more heavy lifting of internet activities take place, there’s suddenly no Google backed Linux presence? 
The Android Magic
Given the fact that there are millions of people that use Android without having the foggiest idea it’s Linux, one would expect that Google would have tried to replicate such a feat on the desktop first before going very futuristic with Chrome OS. 
Properly packaging Linux for the masses will again give Google the exact success its enjoying with Android in that given its price point (free definitely), array of commercial grade applications available and polish, more and more OEMs will be more than likely to give shipping their boxes with Linux some thought.
And how does Google gain I hear you ask? Simple. First it could ship the OS with its Chrome browser (I personally would not mind Ubuntu shipping with Chrome, really). Secondly, owning the OS will give it a better insight into developing seamless syncing with its other platforms for the myriad form factors those platforms support.  Also, it would help them tightly integrate their vast array of services into their OS platforms and thereby replicate the Apple “Garden of Eden” experience, but in an open environment.
There is a lot of space in the desktop market that currently only Microsoft and to a lesser extent Apple are making use of. There is still a lot of money to be made in that part of the market. Also Chrome OS, no matter what Google would want us to believe, cannot be a serious substitute to Microsoft Windows. Grab an already popular brand of OS and throw in the gauntlet more fully Google!

Nokia Mulls Over An iPad Rival

After dumping MeeGo and jumping on the WP7 train, Nokia CEO Steven Elop has indicated the Finnish company is mulling over a tablet pc to rival the *ahem* iPad. In an interview with Finnish news channel YLE (video is in English), he stated that he believes the success of any Nokia tablet should be able to stand out from the crowd of Android tablets to stand a chance of competing with the iPad.

In this wide ranging interview that touched on subjects like the rivalry with Google, fate of Symbian and MeeGo, the CEO did not make it clear which OS their upcoming tablet would run, whether WP7 or anything homegrown, MeeGo perhaps. He also explained why Nokia is of the view that Android is more a threat to their market strategy than iOS, saying Android has devices to cover every spectrum of the market while the iOS is mainly focused on the cream of it.

He also touched on the imminent layoff of close to 4000 Nokia employees over the coming year and explained the move to offload some employees to Accenture, saying they’ll be retrained to work on WP7. You can watch the entire interview (about 20 mins) which is in English for yourself.