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No, Linux won't be easy to run on a Microsoft Surface (mjg59.dreamwidth.org)
68 points by Garbage 1666 days ago | hide | past | web | 64 comments | favorite

> Booting Linux on these devices would involve finding a flaw in the firmware and using that to run arbitrary code

Considering there hasn't been a major console (including xbox) that's been immune from crackers running arbitrary code, I'm pretty confident that we'll be seeing linux running on the surface at some point. Unfortunately the article's title is probably accurate; It's probably going to be too difficult for someone who's not a very-motivated linux fan to do it.

It's a shame too, when I first saw the surface my initial reaction was "Holy crap, if I can wipe it and put Arch on it it's the perfect mobile laptop replacement, I'll buy it for sure". Oh well, guess I'll have to wait to see how easy the jailbreak is.

Nobody's broken the AppleTV v3 yet, despite v2s going for well above original sale price on Ebay due to their hackability. Sometimes the difficulty/payoff ratio isn't sufficient for anyone to find a flaw.

(Or maybe everyone who could produce a jailbreak for the v3s is engaged in a lucrative business selling v2s on Ebay)

The reason the Apple TV 3 hasn't been jailbroken is because it provides a tiny attack surface. There's no web browser to exploit, and there's no iTunes syncing. So even when exploits have been found in various parts of iOS, most of those parts either don't exist or inaccessible on the Apple TV.

As chpwn, are you still involved in the jailbreak community?

(btw sent from the news:yc app).

I understand the desire to hack and tweak. That said, for my household, AppleTV is about the wife and I being able to watch Netflix, homeshare pictures and (more important) movies with minimal hassle.

Hadn't realized AppleTV v2 had a market. Tempted to upgrade and make some cash.

Jailbreak, install XBMC and use your iPhone/iPad as a remote. You can thank me later.

So, for a very long time, I had an XBMC box setup on my projector, got a AppleTV, pretty quickly stopped using the XBMC machine, and now I've since repurposed the machine as a Steam Big Picture box, (Which sadly won't run on an XBMC Apple TV)

Out of curiosity, what functionality in XBMC do you find particularly worthwhile?

Wider format compatibility - ATV doesn't support AVI, and won't play direct from either UPNP or SMB.

That's a fine reason.


Thanks for letting us know! They're going for $164+ on Amazon.com (my selling venue of choice -- eBay is too much trouble).

Looks like I'll get an upgrade and extra cash for my v2, as I'm not interested in hacking.

A shame too, because AppleTV 3 is a beautiful piece of hardware. Would be the ideal tiny ARM server if only I could get Linux to run on it.

PS3 was released in 2006, and finally broken in 2010 due key management issues (not a flaw in the firmware afaik). Do you really think that running Linux on Surface in 2016 will be relevant anymore? The device probably will be EOLed long before that.

Until 2010 you could run Linux on the PS3 without breaking any kind of security, using the built-in "OtherOS" feature. On April 1, 2010, that feature was removed with a firmware update. I think it actually took until 2011 for a working jailbreak to be released.

Your overall point is correct, even if the PlayStation is not a good supporting argument.

Access to the hardware via OtherOS was afaik severely limited, and more comparable to having Linux on a virtual machine than running it on the actual hardware. iirc eg the GPU was not accessible in OtherOS which limited the usefulness quite much.

The presence of OtherOS, crippled as it was, prevented enough people from being interested in putting in the effort to get more out. The general consensus at the time seemed to be that this was exactly the sort of effect Sony was going for when they included OtherOS in the first place.

At one point, after OtherOS was removed but before the keys were reverse engineered, there was some sort of "jailbreak" that used a bug in the PS3's USB stack.

Before the keys were reverse engineered the exploits were limited to running userland code only afaik, ie you couldn't replace the firmware/os with those.

My initial reaction was essentially the same (give or take a distro). The lockdown is really a shame, since thus far this is the most attractive tablet I've seen, especially with the keyboard.

I'm pretty sure someone will be able to jailbreak it, though it might take some time. I think the whole secure-boot thing will work out somehow in the future. I'm not prepared to have my next PC locked down, keeping me from running the OS I want. Until then, I will quite simply not buy a new machine.

If I've learned anything about computer security in my life, it's that there is no such thing.

Even if you got Linux to boot, would you have drivers for the hardware?

Probably. Microsoft's pushed hard to turn the ARM market into something closer to the PC one - Windows RT devices are required to have UEFI and ACPI, so device discovery is a solved problem. As far as the actual drivers go, the majority of the parts are almost certainly also present in at least one Android device on the market, and the touchscreen presumably uses the Microsoft multitouch protocol that's already supported by the Linux kernel.

The biggest hurdle you'd face is actually that Linux doesn't support ACPI or UEFI on ARM yet. I believe that Linaro are working on that, though.

>the touchscreen presumably uses the Microsoft multitouch protocol that's already supported by the Linux kernel.

Does that also apply to touchpads? The last thing in Linux that never ever works well for me is the touchpad. touchegg is mildly better, I've tried tweaking synclient with limited success...

Mmm, tell that to all the people who bought Motorola phones and told me off when I warned against it with the same logic. "It will be broken soon enough". To this day, it is not possible to boot alternative kernels on many moto devices, save for some sort of rebooter with kexec or because an engineering bootloader (signed of course) was leaked or it's one of the handful of devices that the Motorola unlock tool supports.

I'd love to be wrong, I promise you, but if MS has done their homework right and looked at what others have done, it ought to be close to possible. (Also note that the primary way of compromising the Xbox these days requires electrically glitching hardware. I suppose something similar could be devised for a targeted ARM device but it seems less likly given the cost/benefit that mjg referenced).

There is no such thing as the Microsoft Surface, there is the Microsoft Surface RT(ARM) and the Microsoft Surface Pro(x86). The Surface RT, like most ARM devices(Android & iOS included) has a locked bootloader. The Surface Pro on the other hand will have the option to "unlock" the bootloader by disabling secure boot.

I do wish Microsoft would take the "high road" and offer the same option to disable secure boot on the Surface RT.

Or retain secure boot with a method for a knowledgeable user to install an additional trusted master key.

I get the impression that in the future I'll be the old UNIX beard guy telling youngin-s and interns that one time I could just throw Gnu/Linux or BSD on just about whatever hardware.

Or better yet, you could even write your own OS on new hardware and not have to get permission (or whatever it is we have to do in the future).

Write your own OS? How about writing software at all? The future will be a world where "consumer" computers will not be allowed to run software that was not approved by some corporation, and where programmers will have to pay an annual fee just to have the ability to program (which could be lost without notice and without any refund).

"Back in my day, we learned to program by just programming! I used to practice my programming skills on whatever computer I could get my hands on when I was your age...you kids will never understand how much the world has changed..."

I think I need to learn about hardware design.

I hope we don't end up like gaming console ecosystem: developer machines cost 3x-10x what a consumer version

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that MS is doing the right thing by insisting that hardware makers give users a choice. Microsoft _requires_ that Windows 8 certified devices have an option to disable Secure Boot. They still get blamed though.

Surface RT doesn't have that option, because it is exactly like the iPad except that it is going to be far less popular. To be fair, if there is anyone to be blamed for this alarming trend of locking things down, it is Apple.

You can't really blame Apple for something Microsoft does. Microsoft is large enough to buck the trend.

I am not blaming Apple for something Microsoft did. I am blaming them for making it acceptable to lock things down.

It's not acceptable, it is just that the people in the target audience don't care.

I see, it's not acceptable. It's just that most people accept it.

The majority accepting something has nothing to do with whether or not that something is acceptable. This is the concept behind the idea of the tyranny of the masses.

The tyranny of the masses has traditionally been held back by enacting rules of law that the masses have no interest in. In this particular case, that would be consumer protection laws that the majority of consumers would not care about.

I'm not so sure if accepting it is the right term, they just don't care or even understand the concept of something else.

It's sort of like how privacy isn't a concern/issue for this latest generation that is getting online.

You're right, that is the right thing to do. However, MS also mandates that secure boot be enabled with no option to disable it on certified Windows RT devices. That's essentially all future ARM-based Windows devices, not just Surface RT, and I suspect we'll be seeing more of those in years to come.

Apple and microsoft can do as they please with devices they manufacture themselves. Harming the consumer comes into play when microsoft removes choice from the market by dictating restricted boot to OEMs in exchange for better licensing deals.

This is one business decision I fail to fully comprehend.

First of all, the number of people interested in dual-boot or otherwise are likely to be small. But even so, why drive away potential customers and business? If the hardware is what people want, isn't it your goal, as a business, to give them the hardware; and to give your shareholders the profits from the sale of said hardware?

I don't see the win in a decision like this. It's a lose lose situation that could be a win win.

"I don't see the win in a decision like this. It's a lose lose situation that could be a win win."

Well, they want the alternatives to their product to be difficult to install so people remain in the Windows world or MS ecosystem.

When there is no alternative, there is a monopoly and you could raise your profits as much as you want, they will pay, econ 101.

Microsoft had been reaping a 90% and 95% margin from their Windows and MS Office products just because of their monopoly, and +30% in their global business(after spending billions on "me too" projects like bing, zune, winmo, lumia or xbox, witch lost billions before getting profitable).

Because they're subsidizing the cost of the hardware with the intention of creating lifetime or long term Windows users.

This is no different than on the iPad. And as with the iPad, finding a security hole to work around the signature requirements is very simple compared to actually porting Linux. Indeed, as the Surface is a new product, I'd guess it might actually be much easier to find such a flaw than it has been on the iPad — which has had multiple such flaws discovered and exploited (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_jailbreaking#Recent_release...).

There's an amazing lack of interest in Surface jailbreaking, though. I was running a Chip-in to pick up a Surface RT (primarily to gauge interest). Even with you, comex, and a bunch of other people retweeting it, it ended up getting a grand total of $80. And that was from a demographic that's deeply interested in such jailbreaks.

The likelihood of a device being broken is almost purely a function of interest; the interest just isn't there for the Surface, which is why the money I got is going to the EFF rather than buying a device (my contingency if the project didn't raise enough or raised too much).

There's just an amazing lack of interest in the Surface altogether — except, apparently, from the freedom groups still upset about Microsoft while mostly ignoring the rest of the industry.

I think the only way forward is for some manufacturer to step up and design hardware that will run Linux, yet be competitive with the features of Surface.

We're only worrying about this entire issue because the mass market, presumably, will adopt Surface - and thus Microsofts standard lockout policies - and thus 'all the cheap hardware wont be available to us'.

But, there is absolutely nothing stopping a hardware manufacturer from stepping up and saying - well, here's a laptop that is just as nice, but no lockout. Companies like Always-Innovating (shudder) have attempted it in the past - sure, its not easy, but it may be easier than getting Surface cracked, or the US/EU/Chinese Governments to apply anti-monopoly legislation to Microsoft/et al.

I know, its expensive to get this done properly, but if there is an opportunity here, its in the Hardware Startup realm. It is fraught with danger and problem at all fronts, but then again .. people said that the raspberry-pi project wouldn't work. They said it about the Open Pandora. They said it about Always Innovating. It really is just a matter of pushing harder, persisting through the storms, and I believe the market is there.

In fact, OpenPandora2 could very well be the solution to this entire dilemna. The OP guys have had a rough time of it, but they're still in the ring .. if only someone like Valve or so on would get a bit more muscle behind them, we'd see the OpenPandora2 (or whatever) step into the ring and start competing just fine, methinks ..

EDIT: Take a look at this thing and tell me its not a few small hardware-revisions away from being an ideal Surface competitor: http://www.openpandora.org/ It may well be 5 years behind the tech curve, but the damn thing works so well, and yet was created by VOLUNTEERS and PIONEERS who, indeed, have emerged from the Linux/OpenSource eco-sphere, under the radar of the mainstream to start actually delivering. I know, the numbers aren't there (they haven't hit 5000 users yet), but just imagine what it could be if a little more muscle were put behind this project from someone like Valve ..

That's basically the Asus Transformer. Or some other Android tablet.

How about a Boycott of computer devices that you cannot install an alternative OS on like Linux?

This new Firmware is designed to keep Malware off PCs, but it also keeps competition to Windows off PCs as well. Time for another DOJ investigation of Microsoft for locking out competition?

> How about a Boycott of computer devices that you cannot install an alternative OS on like Linux?

You couldn't get most of HN to do something like this, let alone the general public.

Sad but true.

On the other hand, the average customer doesn't even want to go through the trouble of buying a device and then having to load the OS on it. Arguably it's a red herring to worry about the Surface. Let it succeed or fail. But you can be sure I won't buy one.

The saddest part is that in a place called hacker news there is such low interest in hacking combined with a high propensity to fall for such a transparent market manipulation maneuver coming from a convicted monopoly abuser that's trying to extend their PC dominance into ARM tablets.

What's sad about it? I can't replace the OS in my car after all. I can replace the OS on my cell phone now, but it used to be the case that you couldn't and that was just peachy.

"What's sad about it? I can't replace the OS in my car after all."

Oh, I did, and is fantastic.

I could log the rpms of the tachometer, the accelerations and the gyros, GPS, fuel that the car is spending, the battery use, so I could model the energy it takes for my car to go to the mountains up or down, how much it will spend more if there are red semaphores on my way, or the true air resistance with velocity( I had some marks in the bodywork and instruments outside that really affect aerodinamics with velocity).

It is really really useful planning ahead how much fuel you will use based on a map, how much money you will spend and how much your tires suffer in every circumstance with real data instead of suppositions(that are almost wrong).

In the future all cars will be like that, that is for sure.

Maybe it is sad from his perspective because it is something he would be interested in doing?

Just because it is an appliance that you are not interested in modifying doesn't mean that he should not be disappointed...

At least how I read it, the "sad but true" was in reference to the fact that people on HN didn't care that you couldn't modify it, not his personal disappointment.

Right.. he is personally disappointed that others do not share his interests. He isn't suggesting that you should be similarly disappointed.

Obviously if he thinks the general HN crowd isn't interested he doesn't expect the general HN crowd to be saddened by that fact.

Some people do replace (or at least tweak) the OS in their car.

The electronics in my car consisted of exactly one transistor (which drove the coil).

Ok, I hacked it and replaced it with an MSD electronic ignition.

Love it! I hope the car keeps on tickin'

Can you tell more?

72 Dodge Challenger, 340 sb. Slightly (ahem) modified to put out about 400 HP (measured on the dyno). Makes me feel like a kid everytime I drive it.

Having recently had the immense displeasure of using Ford' SYNC, I very, very much wish that I could replace the OS in [my] car.

Actually, no, I'd rather just wait for Google to bring out their car. Self driving, knows where I want to go based on my calendar/plane tickets/etc (things that Google Now already does), etc.

Microsoft is not the dominating player on the tablet or laptop hardware market, so I don't see any ground for an anti-trust investigation.

The major linux distros boot out of the box on these non-ARM PCs, SecureBoot can enroll your own keys and/or can be disabled. So, what type of user is going to be prevented from trying or installing linux?

Just don't buy one then even if you want one. Oh wait, that's exactly what people are doing already :)

People are buying them in big numbers because they don't know any better. Those buying the Windows RT device can't seem to figure out why it won't run their Legacy X86 Windows apps. There is a sucker born every minute, PT Barnum.

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