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Open source user group files antitrust complaint against Microsoft

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March 27, 2013

An open source software user group in Spain has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission, claiming that the company's implementation of UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) Secure Boot represents unfair competition to the PC industry, and especially to the Linux community.

Hispa Linux, an 8,000-member organization that advocates and facilitates Linux utilization in Spain, filed the complaint with the Commission's Madrid office yesterday.

In its complaint, the association alleges that Microsoft has used UEFI Secure Boot requiring that operating systems be digitally signed before they will boot, as an obstruction mechanism against non-Windows systems, including Linux.

Microsoft requires all hardware OEMs to ship their devices with Secure Boot enabled by default if they want to receive Windows 8 compatibility certification, using a key provided by Redmond. As a result, Linux users must resort to clumsy workarounds to install the operating system, particularly if they want to dual-boot.

"This is absolutely anti-competitive," Hispalinux head José Maria Lancho says. "It's really bad for the user and for the European software industry."

In a lengthy blog post on the issue, the group argues that Windows is far more vulnerable to viruses and other malware than alternative operating systems are, especially Linux, and that Microsoft's use of UEFI as a control mechanism is not a technical achievement, but a technical barrier to the IT and PC industry.

By actively opposing Secure Boot, Hispa Linux joins such organizations as the Free Software Foundation, which has lobbied OEMs to turn off the system by default and has urged consumers to boycott Windows 8 PCs.

The group's antitrust complaint comes not long after the European Commission slapped Microsoft with a €561 million fine for violating an earlier antitrust agreement, this one over the company's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows.

But whether the Commission will look favorably upon Hispa Linux's concerns in the UEFI matter remains to be seen. In a letter dated January 31, 2013, EU Competition Chief Joaquin Almunia said the Commission was "aware of the Microsoft Windows 8 security requirements," but that so far it had seen no red flags per se.

"The Commission is currently not in possession of any evidence suggesting that the Windows 8 security requirements would result in practices in violation of EU competition rules," the letter reads. "In particular, on the basis of the information currently available to the Commission, it appears that the OEMs can decide to offer end users the option to disable the UEFI secure boot."

Given that assessment, unless Hispa Linux's 14-page complaint can offer evidence to the contrary, it seems likely to fall on deaf ears. We will keep you posted on this and other news stories as they happen.

In other IT news

Total Petroleum Group, a large integrated oil energy company based in France wants to do a better job at discovering new oil lurking in the Earth's crust. This means getting a lot more computing power to turn the black gold of the planet into colorful 3D renditions that demonstrate where the oil could be hiding.

Total is shelling out to Silicon Graphics €60 million over the next four years to build the largest privately owned supercomputer in the world.

The plan for the new "Pangea" supercomputer, which will be installed at Total's Scientific and Computing Centre in southwest France, is to build a CPU-only system based on SGI's ICE X systems.

SGI's ICE X super computers were previewed back at the SC11 supercomputer conference back in November 2011 and shipped the following spring after the launch of Intel's Xeon E5-2600 processors, on which the original clusters are based.

However, SGI was a bit too eager to sell the ICE X machines ahead of that rollout, and while it bragged that it had booked $90 million in new orders for the machines in January 2012, many of those initial deals were either unprofitable or marginally profitable, causing SGI to restructure the deals and get a new CEO a month later.

Presumably Jorge Titinger, who is running SGI now and who put a firewall around those unprofitable deals, is making sure SGI is making enough profit on the Pangea supercomputer that will be delivered to Total.

The Pangea supercomputer at Total will be one of Europe's most powerful supercomputer. Total currently has an SGI Altix ICE 8200-EX supercomputer based on quad-core Xeons and clustered with InfiniBand networks, which runs its applications on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, plus the ProPack math library extensions from SGI.

That cluster has no less than 10,240 cores and a peak theoretical performance of 122.9 teraflops, and it burns 442 kilowatts of power, giving it a power efficiency of 278 megaflops per watt. It dates from 2008, when it was the 11th most powerful machine in the world for that time.

While Total is getting a serious upgrade for its computing capacity, what is perhaps equally important are the more sophisticated cooling systems that SGI has cooked up for the ICE X machines. These supercomputers have a number of different options.

The "Dakota" two-socket blade servers used in the ICE X clusters pack 72 blades in a rack and have an open-loop air cooling system for the racks. If you want to do a better job controlling airflow in the data center (or, better still, you have no choice because you have to eliminate all inefficiencies that you can), then you can wrap four of the ICE X server racks in an outer skin called a D-Cell.

It basically turns these four racks into a self-contained smaller data center (thermodynamically speaking), and you can do closed-loop cooling inside the cell skin and warm water cooling to remove the heat from the cell itself.

And if you want to push computer density a notch more, then you go with the doubled-up "Gemini" IP-115 server blades, which sandwich either an air-cooled or water-cooled heat sink onto the Xeon processors. The Gemini blades have half the memory and disk slots as the Dakota blades, which may be a lot to give up for some HPC labs, but they pack twice as many server nodes into a rack.

Source: HispaLinux.

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