Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I think many in the world of FOSS take for granted that a good deal of our x86 compatible hardware works with their operating system of choice. In fact all the fuss about a possible lock out with the coming of Windows 8 attests to this fact. x86 hardware has always been fairly free and it should remain as such right?
Yes it should.
Something that really bothers me though is the fact that ARM hardware is treated in a very different way. What do I mean by this? Well as someone who has worked with over a dozen different pieces of ARM hardware from many different manufactures I can tell you installing an alternative operating system on such a piece of hardware is almost never a pleasant experience.
Before I go on I would like to clarify that by "install" I mean physically run the operating system on the hardware. Not just running it inside a chroot like so many Android users seem content to do on their hardware. In my opinion being told to be content with a chroot setup is just like being told I should be happy simply running Linux inside of Windows via a virtual machine.
Even devices that advertise themselves as open source loving (such as my beloved N900) are a nightmare and a half to install something such as Debian on. Don't be fooled by devices that ship things like Ubuntu Linux by default either. I recently purchased a Trimslice with the hopes of installing Debian on it and it has been an up-hill battle to make it work (one I still haven't won). Once you manage to get the operating system installed even that is only half the process - next you have to hope you can somehow get all your hardware functioning.
Why does all this headache happen? Well, partially it is because of lack of standards in the ARM world. A vast variety of hardware that all have different external components make this task difficult. This difficultly is multiplied two fold when you take into account that most of this hardware has no open specifications.
In the end my question to the open source community is why is this acceptable for ARM hardware? Why do you continue to rejoice about every new Android device that gets released riddled with closed source modules that are next to impossible to make work under actual Linux.
Just as many of you would be upset if you where told that desktop (or laptop) you bought had to keep it's default operating system I am more than a little annoyed that a good deal of the ARM hardware out there comes with this stipulation attached.