State of the PC Union

This week some of you may have heard some bits of utter absurdity regarding a certain manufacturer of laptops and desktops in the news. Yep, once again I’m talking to you about Lenovo. This hurts because I’m a big fan of their hardware. I have a Lenovo Y550p and a U530. I love both of them, they’re workhorses for mobile productivity.

That being said, Lenovo has had more than their fair share of scandals. The most disturbing of which being the man-in-the-middle exploit certificate they were installing on equipment as part of a factory image. Naughty, naughty Lenovo.  There’s an article about this here.

Early this week we heard news of Lenovo’s new laptop line being so locked down that you wouldn’t be able to install Linux on it. These rumors were quickly confirmed as mostly-true: you -can- run Linux so long as it boots UEFI (most do these days). You cannot (easily) install it though because the UEFI settings force the drives into a hardware raid that there is no Linux driver for (yet). That means you’re relegated to Windows and Live-CD booting of Linux. Sad trombone.  I was initially turned on to this story via a Reddit thread here.

Lenovo was quick to say that it’s a factor of their agreement with Microsoft to sell it as a Microsoft certified device. They claimed that it needed to be a Windows only device or it would not be certifiable. Microsoft quickly chimed in and said: no way, that’s not part of our requirements.

Hanlon’s Razor teaches: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”. Whether it was malicious intent on Lenovo’s part, or stupidity on the CSR’s part is yet to be seen.

It’s frustrating to see from the sidelines though. At some point Lenovo should release a driver (hopefully not a binary blob) for the RAID which will make Linux happy. If they don’t, I’m sure SOMEONE will.

This is a scary direction for devices, OS designers, and technology in general to be going. I stick with custom-built PCs (outside of laptops and smartphones of course, though I anxiously await the arrival of the first modular smartphones) specifically for the flexibility that this allows. I am not bound to buying a super high end device if all I need is a machine with a beefy video card. Conversely if I need to crunch big numbers I do not need to buy a box with a massive video card, just lots of RAM and a fast CPU. There is no such flexibility for vendors to provide these features. It’s more economical to provide 3-4 base models with minimal modularity.

My fear is that PC land will rapidly approach Apple-esque levels of lockdown: you cannot run (easily) anything other than an Apple OS. You can install Windows but as far as I know you need to install Apple OS first and initiate the install via their tools.

I think hardware designers, manufacturers, re-sellers and OS designers need to take a clear step back and evaluate what they’re potentially doing to tyevPC ecosystem, before it is too late.

-M, out.

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