Friday, July 6, 2012


Mom & Dad, I know you read my blog. Please skip this post. Thanks. --Cathy


Note: This post assumes you know what UEFI and Secure Boot are and have followed GNU/Linux's progress over the years. It assumes you have perspective. It is not a fluff piece. It is an open letter to freedom fighters at the core.

If you have built your own desktop at some point in your life and you care about end user rights, please read.

When UEFI's Secure Boot is implemented at OEM level, all new PCs purchased (with the intent of loading your favorite distro) will have Secure Boot.

Yes, you can disable it. But "disabling" something that's "secure" makes you bad. Thieves disable security. (On a primal level, people crave security; this is a constant.)

FLOSS is being rebranded as "not secure". The branding will stick the same way that the Win key branded PC=Windows worldwide.

FLOSS will be benevolent only for those who have a history with it. Your legitimacy and ease-of-use is being striped. Incoming new users will decrease as disabling Secure Boot evolves to be increasingly more difficult. Your peers will age and disappear, the precursor to extinction.

Your legacy evaporates every time you use a PC or Mac* and others see you using it, accepting it and condoning it. Future generations will wonder what it is you were trying to accomplish, not just because end user rights are a thing of the past, but because your words and actions were incongruent. There is a lack of integrity between what you say (you value GNU/Linux and FLOSS) and what you use (PC or Mac).

I am not an idealist and I have no vendetta, no flag to wave, no pissing contest to win. What I do have is an unfortunate penchant to see multiple outcomes (think: chess, think: hyperactive executive function in the frontal lobe). Ask anyone who knows me, I'm not smart, I just have an annoying tendency to visually chart multiple outcomes and give them weight due to likelihood of occurrence based on factors x, y, and z. Ask the people who have to live with me; it's annoying, but occasionally handy.

After looking at as many factors as I can currently see from my vantage point working with factories in China, devs throughout the world, and customers in North America and now Australasia, this will continue to play out like a Greek tragedy unless we purposefully shift the storyline. Now.

Secure Boot makes sense to Ubuntu and Fedora teams. We can respect their choices and we also respect the end user. ZaReason does not require you to use any specific distro in particular. ZaReason builds and supplies rooted, open bootloader machines that have been tested to run the most mature distros.

Fedora is doing the best they can. They are making tough decisions. They are good people who have been faced with their worst nightmare -- a lack of control over how their software gets loaded on the computers of nice new people who want to use it. They had two choices:

1. Become "too difficult" to new users, slow death by suffocation, or

2. Try to survive the upcoming shift, but in the process, trust MSFT. In an FSF article by John Sullivan: "Users wishing to run in a Secure Boot environment will have to trust Microsoft."

Since the beginning of GNU/Linux in the 1980-1990s up till now, we have all had the luxury of tinkering, wiping and loading whatever distro we liked.
This gave you the ability to flip the bird to proprietary corporations.

See below? This is what Secure Boot does, as it is currently being implemented.
Creative Commons - Attribution 2.0 Generic Neeta Lind

Solution: Don't give them your hand. Stop buying Windows machines, damn it.

I honestly don't care whether you get your next laptop from ZaReason or any other GNU/Linux-specific builder. There are only a few of us around and we are small. As far as I know ZaReason is the only one working directly with OEMs, doing our own runs of hardware. Yes, we may not have the options you want. Yes, we may not be shipping in your country. But yes, we need your support. We need to be shipping 200,000 of each computer instead of 2,000. For example, the Strata 7330 we just launched has serious muscle at a competitive price.

But here's the part that blows my mind -- currently a freedom fighter may look at the Strata model and say, "Oh, I really wanted __ feature." It's a minor feature, low on his list, but since there is a plethora of available models at the store and since he doesn't put much value on GNU/Linux-specific hardware (to do would seem "fanatic"), a feature that is #18 on his list wins out. Yikes.

At ZaReason our days are long and without a shiny marketing budget our computers do not get the credit they deserve. Hearing from a freedom fighter that he didn't find GNU/Linux-specific hardware compelling made me want to cut my own middle finger off, give up, forget it. As I type, my husband is working on R&D for the tablet and has just taken a moment to rest his head on the desk in despair. He needs a larger dev team. Now he's banging his head on the desk.

Why do we bother? Because GNU/Linux and FLOSS are worth a little head banging. We love how free and open source software and the people in the community have improved our lives. Our original switch to Ubuntu caused a quantitative improvement in quality of life. ZaReason is in it's 6th year now and even though the hardware business is brutal, even though it has pushed all of us to our limits, I wouldn't change the last six years.

GNU/Linux and FLOSS are worth it.


*Apple introduced UEFI. There isn't anything Windows has done that Apple hasn't tried to do better. Think Apple won't implement a similar Secure Boot? Please don't be naive. Thanks.


  1. A voice of reason crying in the wilderness. I am better for having heard it.

    If you can't open it, you don't own it.

  2. Very well said. Thank you.

  3. I got started running linux on a Mac because I got tired of MacOS9 doing silly things, and it was always an uphill battle to get things to work right.

    Recently I bought an Asus transformer, because I read on the web that it could be rooted, only to find that when I got it home, that there was a new key. Well, I ended up rooting it, which resulted in my rant (and instructions) here:

    My next hardware will come from zareason. When can I order a phone?

    1. Thanks for mentioning how hard it is to get hardware working properly. We find that people often don't recognize the value of optimizing hardware for Linux.

      If we were talking about cars (or nearly any other user-oriented mechanism) then the value of "making it work well" (optimizing) would be obvious.

      But for some reason there is a blind spot for Linux hardware. When people point things out like you did -- very helpful.

  4. An interview with RMS from 2010 says he was using a Lemote Yeelong.

  5. Cathy,

    ZaReason should get into Debian's list of vendors that pre-install Debian.

    I've been bought several computers from ZaReason over the past year--and will be buying more in the future. After I found you guys, you delighted me and gained a loyal customer. But, the thing is...: I had to find you! And that part was harder than it needed to be: I wanted computers running Debian, so the first place I looked was Debian's list of vendors that pre-install Debian. Because ZaReason wasn't on the list, I had to spend hours (days, actually!) slogging through the offerings from the other vendors who were in the list, and then days of additional research and community outreach before I even learned that ZaReason existed.

    There are other people like me--but who aren't going to find you unless you get into that list.

    1. Thank you so much! We applied to be on the list. Please let us know if there are other locations / news feeds / lists we need to be on. There are too many for us to track without help. We're focusing hard on R&D so this type of support is very much appreciated.

  6. With you zareason! All the way! Will connect asap.


  7. ESR = Eric S. Raymond
    Linus Torvalds uses a MacBook Air.
    Richard Stallman uses a Leemote Yeeloong, a very free Chinese computer.

  8. It would help a lot if it was easy to find what countries you ship to. It say in the FAQ that you do not ship internationally, but indicate that could change.

    1. Andreas,

      Thanks. ships to North America locations and ships to Australasia. We are considering restructuring the company to be employee-owned / employee-run so that we can establish shops in many countries more quickly, but we need to find a business person who can assist with it (and so far can't find one we can afford to talk to).

      If we're not in your country yet, please accept my apologies. We're doing what we can to grow global. F/LOSS isn't limited by location; F/LOSS hardware shouldn't be either.

  9. Cathy Malmrose,

    You are my hero. keep up the fantastic work.

    Easy is not the road travelled by the brilliant.

    Ram :-}

  10. Damn! I just bought a laptop, but it was Samsung, which is a member of the linux foundation and official open source supporter. Your point is valid and very loud and clear. However, in Oz, it's not that easy to buy linux laptops. I don't know of any.

    1. Raahul, You can get a Linux laptop in Oz! Our shop is for all of Australasia. It's currently being supported by a fantastic base of Kiwis in NZ, but as soon as there are enough AU orders, we'll be setting up a shop in Melbourne (or maybe Sydney).

      Feel free to order a laptop or let us know what you need. We ship to AU and are eager to get a shop in-country.

  11. Sadly, not a SINGLE Linux hardware vendor is willing to ship a laptop with one CRUCIAL feature. 17" display.

    You're more than happy to ship an i7 with an NVida GPU- but no 17". Sorry, guys, but if I need reading glasses to use the damn thing, I'm kind of stuck as I've got vision limitations due to being a Type II Diabetic. The dot pitches aren't useful at 15.6- but yet DELL and HP are more than happy to supply me with at least the display I need to be portable. (Hint: I'm using a re-purposed HP and work's using a DELL mobile workstation model, both running Zubuntu 12.04...)

    It's not a shiny piece. It's a must-have. YOU and System76 plain flat do not offer it. At. All.

    It's nice to talk about being GNU friendly on the hardware front. I'd buy it if you did such that I could actually USE your hardware for on-the-road development work. I can't.

    So...what do you intend on doing about it?

    1. ZaReason has carried a 17" off and on since 2007. Our last one was a 17.3" It's currently out of stock, but if you email they could probably get you a heavily discounted 17" that we used in the office, one that would be on our Sale page sooner or later.

      You're right that for some, a full 17" is crucial.

  12. Hi Cathy.

    Your arguments are very valid. Instead of just killing the smaller Linux distributions, they are also killing the innovative hardware developer and the small hardware manufacturer/reseller.

    I predict that secure boot is going to hurt Microsoft within 4 months of implementation. One nice day, one of their patches is going to fail, and the result will be catastrophic for their install base. I read today about bios hacks that secure boot does not guard against. There is also a hack for the graphics card bios and other devices with revisable code used to drive them. Viruses galore are coming.

    The UEFI will have to become minimal. That is, limited to read a USB, CD or Disk, and not do much more. The Operating system will have to take over the rest of the responsibility that is currently in a PC bios.

    1. Thanks for thinking this through. As long as people are looking at the bigger picture, everything will work out in the end.