by Swapnil Bhartiya

No, Microsoft is not locking users out of Lenovo laptops

Sep 21, 2016
LinuxOpen SourceOperating Systems

Reports that Microsoft and Lenovo are deliberately locking Linux out of certain laptops are incorrect

Lenovo and Microsoft came under fire this week when a Reddit user named BaronHK reported that he was not able to install Linux on Signature Edition Lenovo Yoga 900 ISK2 UltraBook.

BaronHK wrote:

This is related to the ongoing discussion in Lenovo’s forum’s about why the SSD is locked in a proprietary RAID mode that Linux doesn’t understand. Laptops known to be affected include the Yoga 900 ISK2, Yoga 900S, and Yoga 710S, which all have the same issue according to posts I’ve read on Lenovo’s Linux forum.

BaronHK also wrote a 1-star review for the laptop on Best Buy. The issue got even more complicated when someone claiming to be ‘Lenovo Product Expert’ commented on the review and wrote: “This system has a Signature Edition of Windows 10 Home installed. It is locked per our agreement with Microsoft.”

Many Linux users, and some news outlets, were quick to jump to conclusions and criticized Microsoft. I reached out to Lenovo and their spokesperson dismissed the allegation as incorrect that Lenovo and Microsoft have an agreement to “lock” the UEFI bios on Microsoft Signature Edition systems to prevent installation of other operating systems.

When I asked whether Lenovo is restricting customers from installing any OS of their choice, the spokesperson said:

To improve system performance, Lenovo is leading an industry trend of adopting RAID on the SSDs in certain product configurations. Lenovo does not intentionally block customers using other operating systems on its devices and is fully committed to providing Linux certifications and installation guidance on a wide range of products.

Lenovo in fact maintains a very comprehensive list of products that are fully certified and supported on Linux. Yoga 900 is designed for Windows 10 and is not on Lenovo’s Linux supported list.

Lenovo spokesperson said that such unsupported models will rely on Linux operating system vendors releasing new kernel and drivers to support features such as RAID on SSD.

But the interesting fact is Linux already supports RAID on SSD. It’s been there for ever. We reached out to Greg Kroah-Hartman, one of the leading kernel developers, and he said, “We support more raid controllers than any other operating system, and we support software raid as well (recommended over hardware raid as it doesn’t lock you into any one host controller vendor.)”

Commenting on the whole saga, Kroah-Hartman said “It’s just a ‘look, another odd storage controller that Linux might not support, but no one really knows as they don’t have the hardware to test it with…’ issue.”

He suggested that someone who wants to investigate the problem should actually get the laptop under question and work on it to see what the issue really is.

“Odds are it’s just a matter of configuration of the storage controller options in the BIOS and picking the correct Linux kernel storage controller driver for it. If it’s a whole new controller driver that we need to write, great, we can do it if that’s needed and someone provides the specs for it (that’s what the Linux Driver Project does all the time.),” said Kroah-Hartman.

The takeaway is: no, neither Microsoft, nor Lenovo are deliberately locking Linux users out of their laptops. It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s wrong. And that’s something Linux community is very good at. Instead of vilifying companies, we should investigate the problem and try to fix it.

It’s actually a good story. I recall my very early days with Linux, when it would be newsworthy if you were fortunate enough to come across a laptop that worked with Linux, out of the box. Times have changed. Nowadays, if you come across one random laptop that doesn’t work with Linux, it becomes news.

“We have come a long way :)” said Kroah-Hartman.