Campaigns to open hardware for alternative OS

Consider the various good things that governments have done to enforce right to repair, enforce compatibility across hardware and between software services, and to give us sovereignty over our data. In the EU alone we have rules requiring alternative app stores on iphone and Android, requirements to put USB-C in all phones rather than some manufacturers’ jankey connectors, and interchange between instant messengers either in the pipeline or arrived.

So mindful of reducing e-waste, are there any steps in the direction of allowing easy booting of third party OS on any hardware, such as various x86 systems, all the way to tablets and mobiles? A lot of computers these days are locked into obsolete versions of Windows, never mind the even greater OS lock-in of ARM based mobile phones and tablets. It may be a couple of decades too late to save BeOS, but surely a campaign that Haiku and other niche systems could join with Linux on.

It is also something where the EU stands to gain most from. We do not have our own massive champion OS like Mac or Windows in the US, or Huawei “Harmony”. Europe does have some promising niche ones like Genode or HelenOS. Making it easy for people to install a niche system on older hardware will not just be good for the environment by reducing WEEE. It would be strategically good for the bloc by helping some of our homegrown niche systems to gain critical mass against the vastly better resourced US or Chinese ones that come with imported hardware.

I am looking for an overview of any campaigns and proposed laws to force manufacturers to provide access to the bootloader for those who wish to install non-mainstream OS.


Where did you find “A lot of computers these days are locked into obsolete versions of Windows”? :astonished:
After using dozens of computers and laptops,I’ve never came across any x86-based device that doesn’t allow me to install the OS I want to.

Unfortunately,for ARM-based devices the situation is really a lot more difficult and I doubt any law is ever going to change that.
It’s not only that Bootloaders are often locked,but also the complete lack of standard drivers or device discovery in the ARM architecture design that often makes it impossible to install the OS that you want,even if the Bootloader is unlocked.
On x86 hardware,there’s ACPI which tells your OS which hardware is available and there are standard drivers,for example VESA graphics which always works,no matter which graphics card you’re using.
On ARM that simply doesn’t exist,your OS image must contain a so-called device tree that has information about the hardware built into that device (and that must exist for every single devices where your OS is supposed to run on) and each and every graphics chip needs its own (often proprietary) driver.
While a law could theoretically mandate that all drivers must be open-sourced so third-party OSes can port them,that’s not really realistic and some manufacturers probably prefer losing the EU as a market to opening up their proprietary driver code.
UEFI booting for ARM could also make things easier (that offers more or less something like ACPI and standard drivers),but that’s only a thing on ARM-based servers and barely any other device supports it.

I have. One of those PC-on-a-stick thingies that plug directly into the HDMI port. Even Ubuntu couldn’t boot on that. Debian did boot and install, but didn’t recognize the wifi chip even with non-free drivers, which made it fairly useless. Haiku? Not a chance.

Debian boots and installs → You can install the OS you want on that thing.
I didn’t say that all drivers always work,unfortunately they sometimes still don’t,but the situation has gotten better over the recent years.
What I said was that you can at least boot and install whatever you want,unlike on ARM where it most times doesn’t even begin to boot.

By the way,if only the internal Wifi doesn’t work,you can use a USB Wifi dongle if that stick has a free USB port.
That has worked on Linux for years and for some months even on Haiku,but only with a handful supported chipsets here.

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Microsoft will drop support for windows 100 in 2025, at that point they’d want you to consider every TPM <=2 cpu/firmware computer as e-waste

Maybe not “locked” but definetely hard for the average user to install.

What Micro$oft wants me to consider e-waste is irrelevant.
I can install Haiku,FreeBSD,OpenBSD,Solaris,whatever… just fine on such a device.
The hardware or firmware does in no way prevent me from doing so (as it does on ARM,where you often can’t even access the bootloader).

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Woah, I hope there will never be a Windows 100 :smiley:


I don’t want to envision the worst possible outcome, but we have seen already some interesting decisions, like this:

Yes, You can. But many people cannot.
Those computers will continue to be “locked in” to old versions of windows, because alone the act if making a bootable thumb drive is too much for many people.

@nephele Sorry, but you somehow fail to see his point. He’s talking a out freedom to choose different OSs.

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The problem is that there are two things that can prevent you to install another OS. The first is indeed that the hardware must not be locked and depends only of manufacturers. The second is that the installation process needs to be sufficiently simple for an average user to do it. The fact that it can be done by few people having the knowledge is a good step but it is not enough to consider that it is widely unlocked. This one depends for a part of manufacturers and for another part on education of users.

The OP asked about initiatives/legislation to make installing operating systems easier.

I hardly think that tech savy people beeing able to do it is an argument against it.

This thread was inspired by my efforts to source a Haiku compatible computer several months ago.

There is a nearby non-govenment organisation that recycles and re-uses stuff and I tried them for a computer to install Haiku on. I was told by a lad who works there in the electronics department that they tended to dismantle computers for parts, furthermore there were few that come in that could be resold. I understood from him that unless the donor left something with them (this was a while ago, I recall it may have been a “key” or password of some sort) that the computer was useless.

As a mac user primarily I assumed that “IBM compatible” PCs must now be a lot harder to change their install, and also as a mac user this seemed eminently plausible. I think the conversation had made my desire to use an alternative OS known, I think I included mention of linux which more people have heard of as an alternative if not necessary used.

Perhaps this lad thought you needed the login to Windows to do anything to the computer, or just misunderstood that I did not need an OS. The organisation does exist to help disabled people find employment, and maybe there are policies relating to data security that limit his ability to sell complete hardware. Nonetheless this chap gave the impression of being quite competent and frank in his advice, if not necessarily a computer geek. He worked in a reuse charity, and was of the impression that donated computers were useless without the goodwill of the donor.

My impressions are that he was mistaken in his advice. On the other hand, we do have several bank offices here and it is possible that lots are donated by corporations and have hardware that makes re-use harder.

Yes, he simply was mistaken in his advice. Like so many people that believe they need to buy another computer if theirs is infected by a computer virus.

Places like these are mostly under-staffed, so they do not have the manpower to test and reinstall computers. Also, if they sell a complete computer, people would come to them for support, and that would even more work to their already overworked staff.

But mostly, for normal computers, you can just wipe and reinstall another OS of your choice. Even those more “exotic” can have some variant of linux installed on them.

If the precedent user has set up a BIOS password, it can be indeed difficult to get rid of it without a minimum knowledge.

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Okay, so it seems there is not such a problem with mainstream “pc” hardware - at this stage. But somebody did previously offer me one of these NUC stick things and I did my research and found there was not a prayer of booting it, another experience that led to this thread.

Perhaps our campaign should revisit instead the right to choose an alternative OS at the point of purchase. This was what killed BeOS in the first place - the exclusivity agreements that microsoft put in place with the manufacturers. This again would suit the EU which values consumer choice and does not have a dominant native OS vendor to placate.

Why not shoot to the stars - require not just PC vendors to allow the choice of OS at purchase, but also sellers of tablets, watches and mobile phones? I don’t think many people would order their Samsung Galaxy or iPhone with Genode or Sailfish instead of the default, but those options should be there.

Amongst systems that are generic enough they should boot Haiku intel macs are the worst - Apple used Bootcamp to allow windows to be installed and loaded when it suited them, but installing Haiku from USB is beyond my ability. Clearly the Haiku team do their best and the boot-loader worked very well when I did source an IBM compatible. But if the intel macs were opened up by law I’m sure they would be made to boot very well. Such a law would not affect the viability of apple as a business but help consumers greatly.


No manufacturer even asked Haiku about bundling our OS with their computers.

Did you mean to say BeOS there? They indeed ran into problems with Microsoft OEM licensing, some 25 years ago. It’s a bit late to worry about it.

Some manufacturers tried it. For a short while it was possible to buy Sony smartphones with preinstalled Sailfish OS. They did two or three models and I guess not many people bought these, then they stopped doing it.

You don’t need any laws for this, they are already open enough. The problems are entirely on our side, the machines are a little bit different from other ones and need some work to get them working. And not a lot of Haiku low-level developers (who want to work on kernel or bootloaders) own Apple machines, so the support isn’t great from our side. But I don’t think you can blame Apple for that.

So, what would the law say exactly? Do you expect Apple to port Haiku themselves to their own hardware? To lend us engineers to fix the problems we have? Because really the problem is purely technical here, and not law related.

The situation is slightly different with smartphones, where there is sometimes a locked bootloader that will only run software signed by the phone manufacturer. That’s one thing to check next time you buy a smartphone, in my case I have picked one that does not have such restrictions.

It would also be great if the manufacturers provided openly available documentation for their hardware and firmware. At the moment it seems the advantages provided by not letting competitors know about your hardware’s internals are more important than the ones of letting your users write operating systems for your devices.


Whoops! You’re quite right, I have corrected the original post.

Describing intel macs as “open enough” leaves some ambiguity: I read it as meaning that it is possible to make things boot, but if Apple were forced to share full documentation would the outcome be better? However let’s leave that for now as there is a bigger problem coming over the hill:

The fact is that with the now-likely shift to ARM, led by Apple, means that PCs will in a few years no longer be “IBM compatible”, and legal means will be needed to ensure manufacturers cannot close off their hardware to niche OS, as you identify already happens with smartphones.

Perhaps our Law could require the manufacturer to offer two other firmwares at point of sale? And require it to practical for other operating systems to be ported to the hardware and installed by users on an aftermarket basis, through making available the required documentation and tools? They’ll scream blue murder at both these things, but that is a sign it would make a difference!

From what I heard, the maintainers of Asahi Linux (Linux support for Apple machines) are very happy with the way it’s going.

The “PC compatible” doesn’t really mean anything these days already. The original IBM PC from the 1970s isn’t going to help a lot. In fact, it is sometimes getting in the way of getting things done.

It shouldn’t be firmware. The manufacturer can provide one bootloader and documentation and we’ll take it from there.

From my experience of manufacturers doing the Linux or Android porting themselves, it is usually pretty badly done (due to constraints of getting things on the market very quickly, there is no time to get the code up to quality standards of mainline Linux) and full of hacks.

In my paid work I often work with very new hardware (for embedded devices, but the idea is mostly the same). The hardware is usally ready several years before the software. So, of course, they ship it with experimental software and a lot of bugs, and then they do updates. But also there is a lot of presure on the software teams to get things ready in the shortest time possible.

So, providing documentation can certainly be improved a lot, it would save some guessing and head-scratching. But there is not much else to change. Even if ARM is less standardized, the hardware is described either in a device tree or by ACPI tables. I don’t really see how you could enforce such very technical things by law. It could be an independant label that manufacturers could get their hardware certified for, but I think that’s all you can reasonably get.

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I am the only one who dubts this statement? Competitors? I dont see any, all of them uses the same components and sw from the same IP owners. There is no competition, because it is better for them this way.