*countable infinities only

Adam Williamson awilliam at redhat.com
Mon Jun 18 17:18:35 UTC 2012

On Mon, 2012-06-18 at 09:35 -0700, Adam Williamson wrote:

> A couple of concerned Red Hat / Fedora developers - Peter and Matthew -
> have stated that they are unhappy that the certification requirements
> for Windows ARM client devices don't state that the user should be able
> to disable Secure Boot or install their own signing keys, and stated
> that because of this, they don't intend at present to pursue the
> approach of having Microsoft sign Fedora ARM releases for use on
> Microsoft-certified ARM client devices. I don't think we can formally
> characterize this as 'Fedora's' position on the issue, as AFAIK it
> hasn't come up before any kind of Fedora representative body, but in
> practice, I suspect it's highly likely to hold as Fedora policy if that
> were to happen.
> This is the entirety of the situation with regards to ARM client
> devices. I am not sure what you think would constitute us 'disallowing'
> Microsoft from making things we don't like part of their certification
> requirements. Sending them a strongly-worded letter? Making a complaint
> to some body that Microsoft had...done what? 

Sorry for the self-reply, but just in case it's not brutally clear yet,
I wanted to explicitly state this:

I hesitate to put words in people's mouths, and correct me if I'm wrong,
but it reads to me as if Jay and others are arguing from an incorrect
premise. That premise is to assume that there is a God-given right for
people who own computing devices to retrofit alternative operating
systems onto those devices.

I want to put it out there that this is _not true_. It is perfectly
possible, of course, for one to aspire to a world in which it is true.
Many of us would want to live in such a world. We have been lucky enough
to live in a world for some time where it _so happened_ that the
'computing devices' we cared about almost always allowed us to do this.

However, in the boring practical world where such 'rights' are granted
by process of law, no such right exists. As a practical matter, people
have been manufacturing, advertising and selling computing devices to
the public, all over the world, for decades, which do not intend to
allow the end user of the device to retrofit alternative software -
operating system software, firmware, bootloader, or application.

It is _already demonstrably the case_ that over the last few years and
over the next decade or so, the trend has been and will be for reduced
user freedom on typical client computing devices. A smartphone is a
'typical client computing device'. A tablet is a 'typical client
computing device'. The vast majority of such devices sold today are
designed to preclude the user from installing alternative operating
systems and to impose restrictions on the user's ability to execute
arbitrary code: virtually all cellphones and tablets are sold with
locked bootloaders and without user root access. This has not been
challenged in a court of law and I am not aware of any basis on which a
challenge to this could plausibly be launched.

(As an aside, of course _in practice_ many of these devices are hacked,
and the question of whether such hacking can be illegal in a given case
is a complex legal one. I don't think it should detain us here, though;
the key point is that it's fine for the manufacturers to take steps to
_try_ and prevent the installation of alternative software. The question
of what happens if their mechanisms are defeated is besides the point.)

Fedora can deplore the situation; Fedora can state its support for
computing devices which allow the user the freedom to install
alternative operating system software, with reasoned arguments in
support; Fedora can work together with manufacturers of computing
devices which allow such freedom. But I believe it's true, and I think
it's vitally important to keep in mind when debating this topic, that
there is no way in which Fedora can possibly forcibly impose its
position on anyone. It appears to be legally fine for companies to ship
computers you can't (aren't intended to be able to) put other operating
systems on; it is trivially demonstrable that some companies consider it
desirable to do so in some markets; therefore said devices are going to
exist. Fedora can take any one of several approaches to their existence,
but simply deploring the fact and acting, in all respects, either as if
such devices will magically cease to exist at some point or as if we can
pressure them out of existence both seem to be losing strategies in all
regards, to me. I also think any argument which seems to be rooted on
the assumption that such devices are Wrong, Evil and/or Illegal _and
that All-Right Thinking People Will Agree if we can only motivate them
enough_ is doomed to fail. Zillions of people buy locked devices. They
understand, in a vague way, just what it is they are buying. They are
not outraged. They won't be outraged no matter how outraged we try to
make them.

There will always be some people who believe that locked devices are
Wrong and Evil. These people will join the FSF and buy other devices,
and Fedora can and will certainly cater to them. It's possible that
Fedora as a project could take such an uncompromising position and
continue to exist. That's perfectly consistent with reality. But I think
the chances are extremely high that if we were to do such a thing the
consequence would simply be that Fedora would become even more of a
niche project than it already is. If we're fine with that, that's fine.
What's important to understand is that we're not going to be able to
have our cake and eat it too: if we embrace such an uncompromising line,
it is not going to prevent locked devices from existing, and there is
almost certainly not going to be a great Rise of the Computer Users who
will storm the factories of Taiwan and demand their fundamental right to
an unlocked bootloader. It's just not going to happen. Call me a cynic,
it's what I believe.

Ultimately, whatever position we take needs to be rooted in a
recognition that the existence and the short-term growth of locked down
devices are both inevitable. We can try to accommodate them or we can
refuse to, and restrict ourselves to open hardware. We can take a
nuanced position like the one Matthew proposes, where we modify our
approach based on the specific attributes of particular platforms. On
any of those paths, we can present and publicize our belief (I'm
assuming we all _do_ believe this) that open computing devices are
desirable and generally good for everyone. What I don't think we can
practically do is act as if there's some kind of road we can march down
which will roll back the existence of locked down hardware.
Adam Williamson
Fedora QA Community Monkey
IRC: adamw | Twitter: AdamW_Fedora | identi.ca: adamwfedora

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