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Editor's Note: When the Pros Are Out to Lunch, the Rabble Take Over

Jul 25, 2008, 23:00 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

There is a saying that "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one" (attributed to A. J. Liebling, one of the best journalists and essayists ever.) Thanks to the Internet, more people than ever can be their own publishers. This has caused considerable consternation in the ranks of professionals of all kinds: journalists, scholars, scientists, and so forth, who aren't happy at the idea of all of us rabble invading their turfs. Which brings me to another saying: "Nature abhors a vacuum". If there weren't all kinds of gaping voids and unmet needs left by the professionals, we rabble wouldn't be impelled to invade.

Governments and businesses aren't very comfortable with this either, because things they want to keep secret are uncovered and leaked to the world. I would have some sympathy for them if their ideas about what should be secret weren't so Draconian and one-sided- they have no problem with spread-eagling our lives at their slightest whims, but heaven forfend they should be restricted or held accountable for their actions in any way.

I got to thinking about this because of the Foxconn Deliberately Sabotaging Their BIOS to Destroy Linux ACPI article. Technically this isn't an article, but a post in some forum somewheres, and grammatically it doesn't meet even the most lenient standards. A lot of folks would be put off by the author's name- "TheAlmightyCthulhu". For all we know that's his or her real name. So by "professional" standards it is unworthy of notice.

Fortunately we rabble measure by a different yardstick, and can see the real value of this post. Which is some random computer user somewhere on the planet had the expertise to dissect and analyze a BIOS flaw, and then had the best bully pulpit of all time, the Internet, to share his findings. Despite the rise of this brave new police state era, we don't need to know anything about theAlmightyCthulhu. We don't need his home address, or work history, or DNA and fingerprints. We don't need to know who his family is and a record of everything they'v ever done. All we need to know is in that forum post- if the information is true and correct, it stands on its own. He even gives instructions for reproducing his work.

theAlmightyCthulhu's conclusion that it is a deliberate ploy to sabotage non-Microsoft operating systems is debatable, but plausible. It wouldn't be the first time. Remember, even though Foxconn claims that Linux is not officially supported, that is not the issue- ACPI is a standard, and apparently Foxconn has broken it.

Whither the Pros?

So why does it take some unknown Ubuntu user to uncover this sort of thing? We end-lusers have cursed buggy, hostile BIOSes for years now. We have long suspected that they have quality problems, and that they contain nasty little surprises for non-Windows operating systems, but didn't know how to find out for certain. We can infer a lot from poor behavior, but that's not enough to motivate a reluctant vendor to do anything about it. Then along comes theAlmightyCthulhu with a mini-lesson on disassembling and patching a buggy BIOS. It doesn't look so mysterious after all- he did it without any special hardware, just special, easily-available software.

Of Course We Must Complain

On a related note, this story got Slashdotted, and as usual the comments are a dizzying blend of idiotic, trollish, and knowledgeable, with a predictably large percentage of "Quit complaining, you were stupid to buy Foxconn in the first place." I'm puzzled as to how a person is going to know that a certain brand is inferior when complaining is frowned upon- what is it with these people? They think there are no victims, only morons. We have every right to raise heck with vendors who dump shoddy products on us, and to publicize defects when the vendor refuses to acknowledge or fix them. There is zero chance of them improving if we never tell them what we want. You can't easily avoid Foxconn components in any case because they are an OEM supplier to many big name brands, including Dell, HP, Apple, and Microsoft.

Kudos to the pushy people who don't take guff from vendors and manufacturers, and who share useful information. Information is power- that's why NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and paranoia are so endemic.