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article imageLenovo denies conspiring with Microsoft to block Linux on its PCs

By James Walker     Sep 22, 2016 in Technology
Lenovo has come under fire for appearing to block installations of alternate operating systems on its Windows-powered flagship laptops. The systems are locked down from the factory, preventing users from choosing their own software to run.
Lenovo's premium laptops typically come with Windows 10 preinstalled. While this isn't likely to bother most customers, some tech enthusiasts, privacy advocates and Microsoft-sceptics prefer to use a different operating system. Normally, installing Linux is a simple procedure. However, Lenovo appears to have disabled the ability to overwrite Windows on its recent models, causing controversy.
The firmware lock came to light after a post on Reddit gained attention. Affected laptops have been on sale for months. They include Microsoft Signature Edition PCs that are supposed to come from the factory as if you'd installed Windows yourself. Signature Edition computers are sold directly by Microsoft and come without any preinstalled software.
Some media outlets and users speculated that Lenovo and Microsoft deliberately block Linux installs on new machines. The situation wasn't helped by a comment from a "Lenovo Product Expert" on a review of the company's Yoga 900 laptop. "This system has a Signature Edition of Windows 10 installed," the support representative informed a frustrated owner. "It is locked per our agreement with Microsoft."
Lenovo has disowned the comment which appears to be misinformed in its suggestion Lenovo and Microsoft have conspired to prevent Linux being installed. The company has released an official statement that explains why Linux isn't available. It's all down to a proprietary driver that only runs on Windows.
Newer Lenovo computers include a storage mechanism that relies on hard-coded configuration data written into the firmware. This locks the laptop's SSD into a RAID operation mode which Linux is unable to see. The drive shows up correctly in Windows due to the inclusion of a proprietary Intel driver that is only available on Microsoft's platform. Users are unable to disable RAID and set the SSD to run in Linux-friendly AHCI mode because the value is embedded in the firmware.
"To improve performance, the industry is moving to RAID on the SSDs and Lenovo is leading with this change," a Lenovo spokesman told Tech Republic. "Lenovo does not block customers using other operating systems on its devices but relies on the alternative operating system vendors to release appropriate drivers."
Lenovo isn't deliberately blocking Linux from being installed. Microsoft doesn't appear to be involved at all, despite the comments from the supposed Lenovo "Product Expert." The inability to install Linux is primarily caused by the lack of a Linux-compatible driver for Lenovo's SSD controller.
Lenovo's failure to allow users to change the controller makes it almost impossible to get Linux running, although community members are still attempting to build workarounds. According to one customer, it would be a "thirty-second fix" for Lenovo to remove a simple line of code from its firmware, enabling experienced users to switch the storage mode to AHCI and boot Linux successfully.
More about Lenovo, Laptops, Windows, windows 10, Linux
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