[coreboot] Coreboot Purism BIOS is free? open?

Youness Alaoui kakaroto at kakaroto.homelinux.net
Sat Dec 23 04:06:31 CET 2017

I think there is a plan to move librems to non-x86 architecture
eventually (considering that RYF is our long term plan, there is no
choice in moving out of x86 eventually), I think the efforts on the
risc-v front are the most promising and I think that's where the true
competition to x86 will be, but to be honest, I don't really follow,
understand or know much of anything that happens in the hardware space
since I'm a software guy at heart (i.e: all I know is that x86, ARM,
PPC and Risc-V use different instruction sets). I hear a lot about PPC
(with Talos for example), but I don't think PPC is as open as Risc-v
(ISA or something). All I know about PPC really is that it was fun to
reverse engineer during my PS3 days :)
Anyways, as far as I know, for risc-v, it's not there yet, so we're
waiting for that to be ready for the masses before moving to it. I
have absolutely no idea if it's "close" or if it's really a long term
plan for risc-v to be able to compete with x86 in terms of
performance/power usage/features/etc...

Note: this is not an official statement, I never really bothered to
ask in details about such things, I simply write code and yell at it
for not working...

As for the collaboration, again, I have no idea about any of the
business/manufacturing logistics, but if you think there's something
there that can be done, I suggest you contact Todd (I added him in CC)
and you could discuss things, he'll know what to answer you!


On Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 3:54 PM, Timothy Pearson
<tpearson at raptorengineering.com> wrote:
> 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)
> https://www.raptorengineering.com
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