Earlier this month, Microsoft found itself in hot water with the European Union, following a violation of its antitrust agreement there relating to its web browser ballot screen, dating back to 2009. The incident – which Microsoft acknowledged and apologised for – resulted in a fine amounting to $732m, the latest in a long line of penalties that the EU has imposed on the company; indeed, Microsoft has handed over $3.04bn in fines to the EU since 2004.
EU officials may well be rubbing their hands with glee once more, having received a new complaint against Microsoft alleging anti-competitive behaviour, this time from a Spanish association representing the Linux community.
How the EU probably sees Microsoft; if history has taught us anything.
As Reuters reports, Hispalinux – which has around 8,000 members – has filed a complaint with the European Commission against Microsoft, alleging that the company has imposed restrictions that make it unnecessarily difficult for users to boot Windows 8 computers to another operating system.
The complaint relates to the UEFI Secure Boot start-up feature, which Hispalinux refers to as an “obstruction mechanism” that impedes the ability of users to easily boot a PC sold with Windows 8 to an alternative OS such as Linux. According to Hispalinux, it establishes a “de facto technological jail for computer booting systems… making Microsoft’s Windows platform less neutral than ever”.
Microsoft saw this one coming a long time ago. In September 2011, when Windows 8 was still in pre-launch development, former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky and Tony Mangefeste from the company’s Ecosystem team, sought to explain how Secure Boot was not intended to ‘lock out’ other operating systems, but was introduced as “part of [the] Windows 8 secured boot architecture”.
Graphic via "Building Windows 8" blog, September 22, 2011
Mangefeste said at the time that “complete control over the PC continues to be available” to users, adding that “secure boot is a UEFI protocol, not a Windows 8 feature” and that “Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows”. He also said that “OEMs have the ability to customize their firmware to meet the needs of their customers by customizing the level of certificate and policy management on their platform”.
Hispalinux evidently disagrees. The head of the organisation, Jose Maria Lancho, told Reuters that Microsoft’s implementation of UEFI Secure Boot “is absolutely anti-competitive. It’s really bad for the user and for the European software industry.”