Hi folks,

As we know, since last year Nvidia has been locking all their new
hardware down such that it requires signed code to operate, and only
Nvidia has the signing key. Due to this, all development of free
software drivers on new hardware has stalled. It's a shame as Nvidia
GPUs were the most powerful that had a fully free software graphics
stack (as far as what you need to install yourself).

AMD have for a long time now had excellent free software drivers, and is
something they are looking to improve even further for their next
generation GPUs (to be announced next week), but for years these drivers
have required proprietary microcode under a very restrictive license
(basically free to redistribute unmodified and use for its intended
purpose, but non-free in all other respects) in order to function.

This is why almost all ThinkPenguin computers (both desktops and
laptops) only support Intel graphics. The only exception is the
Penguin Pro 5 GNU/Linux Desktop, which gives you the option of paying
extra for an 8+ year old Nvidia graphics card (a Geforce 8400GS 1Gb PCIe

So its unfortunate that today I came across this Phoronix article:

Intel Skylake & Broxton To Require Graphics Firmware Blobs

(where Skylake is the successor to Intel's Broadwell microarchitecture,
and Broxton is for portable devices).

The article is short, but here are some quotes:

"This page also seems to indicate that these firmware blobs are required
by the [Direct Rendering Manager] driver rather than being an optional

"The license of these firmware blobs also indicate that redistribution
is only allowed in binary form without modification. Beyond that, "no
reverse engineering, decompilation, or disassembly of this software is

It's sad news. I'll be interested to see how people react. Will
ThinkPenguin try to restrict their product line to older hardware? Will
the FSF relax their position on microcode for free software distribution
guidelines so distributions such as gNewSense will work properly on x86?
Will these distributions decide to agree with the FSF stance (whichever
they choose)? Or perhaps they'll start focusing primarily on non-x86

Perhaps I'm completely blowing this out of proportion and most people
will be happy enough to ignore their GPU and use CPU/software-rendering
going forward, and ThinkPenguin will just ship with a CPU-rendering
configuration (ie. llvmpipe)? Time will tell.

My hope is that we will see strong efforts to find a free software
replacement for the the Intel and AMD microcode. However I worry that
these companies could decide to counter the "threat" by switching
drivers and GPUs to something very proprietary (as Nvidia did when their
microcode was reverse-engineered).


ps. In other (somewhat older) news, Windows 10 will not mandate an
option to switch SecureBoot off in the UEFI. My guess is that some
(primarily USA-based) laptop manufacturers will remove the option, but I
don't think any of the big Taiwanese laptop manufacturers or any
custom-built desktops will present an issue. Again, time will tell. 2015
is not shaping up to be a good year for new hardware.

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