[coreboot] Coreboot Purism BIOS is free? open?

Timothy Pearson tpearson at raptorengineering.com
Tue Dec 19 21:54:05 CET 2017

Hash: SHA1

Thank you for the detailed explanation.  I guess this is an area in
which experience matters; it is absolutely unacceptable (and not
unexpected) that Intel misled your CEO, but this is sadly not an
uncommon tactic in the industry.

One item I would like to call out though is the following:

> if old or non-x86 architectures were so appealing, you would have seen that become the norm rather than the exception)

No one is denying that the easiest course of action for everyone would
have been for Intel or AMD to release owner-controllable CPUs.  That
being said, individuals and organizations needing privacy and owner
control are /not/ their target market, nor are those entities Intel (or
AMD)'s secondary (or even tertiary) market.  Both Intel and AMD rely on
their lock-in and close association with Windows and related software to
provide cheap, but wholly locked down, CPUs *by design*.  You could look
at it as the hardware vendor simply providing a leased tool on which to
run the leased software -- in such a market, cost trumps everything,
owner control is looked at as "enabling piracy", and as a result x86 is
not an appropriate platform for anyone needing control or privacy.

In this environment, one must make a choice between convenience (x86)
and owner control.  As you mentioned, the only middle ground is
relegated to ancient computers, and that is not where we place any hope
at all.  Trying to switch architectures may be hard, but it is only
going to get harder day after day as people continue to cling to false
hope that the x86 platform may ever be brought under their control.  The
simple fact is, the purchaser of an x86 machine is not Intel or AMD's
customer, nor are the ODMs.  Their primary customers, in an odd sort of
way, are actually the software vendors that require x86 for their
existing applications, and they are the ones that will call the shots on
features or antifeatures in the x86 walled garden.

I wonder, though, if given this information if possibly Raptor and
Purism might have some common business ground here?  Purism has
experience with laptop mechanicals and related concerns, and we have
experience with truly blob-free, powerful hardware -- combining those
two could yield an interesting machine...

On 12/19/2017 02:41 PM, Youness Alaoui wrote:
> On Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 2:07 PM, Timothy Pearson
> <tpearson at raptorengineering.com> wrote:
> On 12/19/2017 11:51 AM, Dame Más wrote:
>>>> I finished the University and I have free time to do things. And this
>>>> seems like an interesting project to which I dedicate many hours.
>>>> The truth is that I read a lot these days. The work you do kakaroto is
>>>> impressive.
>>>> In general Purism is doing something big, and I spoke ahead of time.
>>>> I saw that in the directory
>>>> coreboot/3rdparty/blobs/mainboard/purism/
>>>> there is no content, it is right?
>>>> Thanks
> The main question I have, and this is an honest question, is why Purism
> chose to use the x86 platform as a base for libre hardware, when it has
> been known for some time that said hardware could never be made fully
> blob-free?
> There were (and are) other good ways to make a system that could be
> fully blob-free, for instance ARM, and given the engineering effort that
> is said to have been put into the Purism machines I wonder what we could
> have had if said effort had been put into an aarch64 system instead of
> an x86 system?
>> That's a very good question and you're not the first one to ask it.
>> I think it's a combination of quite a few things. First, the fact that
>> I don't think there were any realistically powerfuly/competing
>> ARM/PPC/risc systems available at the time (or if there were, the
>> price would have been too high to make it a "security focused laptop
>> for everyone"). The purpose of Purism is not to satisfy a niche
>> market, but rather to be something everyone will want whether or not
>> they care about the security like we do, but which would still provide
>> them with that security that they need. I think even now, you can't
>> have an ARM device that could compete with an i7 in terms of
>> performance.
>> The second reason is that Todd (CEO) was in talks with Intel and was
>> unfortunately lead to believe that they were open to release an
>> ME-less design CPU for his needs, it ended up not being the case.
>> The last reason is because I think that through this discussion
>> (https://mail.coreboot.org/pipermail/coreboot/2014-August/078511.html)
>> Todd thought that it would be possible to get a binary blob free
>> coreboot/CPU with a few months of work. He didn't realize that it was
>> a much harder thing to achieve because the FSP takes a lot of time to
>> reverse engineer (remember, he thought he would have an ME-less CPU
>> from Intel), but from what I read in one of his answers, he had
>> already decided on x86 by the time he wrote that mail to the mailing
>> list, so I'm not sure if it really answers your question.
>> I think those that provide non-x86 (or pre-2008 x86) machines are
>> already there to fill the blob-free need, and it's not healthy to just
>> compete with them. A good summary is that we want to "bring blob-free
>> to the hardware that people want", rather than "bring blob-free
>> hardware to the people who want it".
>> Finally, I'll paste you one of my explanations from an email I sent
>> here last May, which kind of summarizes it all (from
>> https://mail.coreboot.org/pipermail/coreboot/2017-May/084166.html)
>> "[...], You ask why Purism doesn't just create laptops using FX2 or ARM or
>> whatever... Well, because that's not what most people want, out there. If
>> you want a RYF laptop using old or underpowered hardware or non-x86
>> architectures, that's a problem that has already been solved, there are
>> various resellers of such devices. The idea here is not to "Use what we can
>> find to make RYF" but rather "Bring RYF to the hardware that people want".
>> What I believe Purism is trying to do is to create a modern laptop for
>> *everyone* with the extra value of security and privacy, and in the process
>> make FLOSS appealing to mainstream instead of letting it be confined in a
>> niche. I think everyone will be better off with tools to protect their
>> privacy/security without asking them to throw the baby with the bathwater
>> by requiring them to use hardware that does not interest them (otherwise,
>> if old or non-x86 architectures were so appealing, you would have seen that
>> become the norm rather than the exception)."
>> I hope that fully answers your question.
>> Thanks!
>> Youness.

- -- 
Timothy Pearson
Raptor Engineering
+1 (415) 727-8645 (direct line)
+1 (512) 690-0200 (switchboard)
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