castanyes blaves

Random ramblings about some random stuff, and things; but more stuff than things -- all in a mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic soapbox-like flow of words.



LinuxBIOS, is a modified version of the kernel, Linux. However, few computers can run them. Whereas "PC clones" were and are quite similar, and fully-documented as regards what the kernel and user-space programs need to know, the commands that the BIOS must execute in order to initialize the machine are varied, and in most cases secret. How to install a new BIOS is also secret on many machines. And so far, most manufacturers have not given the FSF the necessary cooperation of providing these specifications. Some desktop machines can run a free BIOS, but we don't know of any laptop that can do so.

The FSF uses laptops donated by IBM over the past few years. This was one among several ways IBM cooperated with the GNU Project. But the cooperation is incomplete: when I asked for the specifications necessary to make LinuxBIOS run on these laptops, IBM refused—citing, as the reason, the enforcement of "trusted computing" Treacherous computing is, itself, an attack on our freedom; it is also, it seems, a motivation to obstruct our freedom in other ways.

Not all of our community perceives the non-free BIOS as an acute problem. Much of our community supports the open source philosophy, which says that the issue at stake is choosing a development model that produces powerful, reliable software. The open source philosophy doesn't say that "closed source" software is unethical, only that it is likely not to be as reliable. People who hold those views might care about the loss of freedom imposed by a non-free BIOS, because in their philosophy, freedom is not the issue. For us in the free software movement, freedom is the main issue; we have to solve this problem, whether they help or not.

How You Can Help

Since requests for manufacturers' cooperation have not solved the problem, another approach is needed. Now we are asking you to help.

For instance, simply installing a new BIOS in the machine is a substantial challenge. Most manufacturers don't publish the information on how to do this. If you can figure this out for some recent model, especially a laptop, that would be a substantial contribution.

Cooperation from the manufacturers would make that work unnecessary. However, to gain cooperation we need to press for it.

The most uncooperative company is Intel, which has started a sham "open source" BIOS project. The software consists of all the unimportant parts of of a BIOS, without the hard parts. It won't run, and doesn't bring us any closer to a BIOS that does run. It is just a distraction. By contrast, AMD cooperates pretty well.

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