March 11, 2012, 9:11 AM — VANCOUVER -- A battle could be brewing between Microsoft and the Library of Congress over the right to jailbreak tablets that support the new Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture.
The showdown would be a replay of a similar case in 2010 when Apple opposed allowing jailbreaking iPhones but lost, making it legal to unlock the phones to install software not approved by Apple or to get the phones to work with carriers other than those authorized by Apple.
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In announcing Windows 8, Microsoft says that WOA PCs -- which include tablets and other devices powered by the power-crimping ARM processors -- "will be serviced only through Windows or Microsoft Update, and consumer apps will only come from the Windows Store. ... A WOA PC will feel like a consumer electronics device in terms of how it is used and managed."
That means no jailbreaking.
But the Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking the Library of Congress, specifically the U.S. Copyright Office, to exempt tablets from provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that forbid tampering with measures put in place to protect copyrighted works, according to Marcia Hoffman, an EFF attorney speaking at the CanSecWest security conference.
The law calls for a review every three years of exemptions to DMCA, which means that next year it has to decide whether to extend the exemption on unlocking iPhones as it did in 2010. This time, though, EFF is asking to specifically exempt tablets as well, Hoffman says. That's all tablets, not just WOA devices, and a separate request is being made for gaming consoles, she says, to allow customers to run homebrew games.
For its part, Microsoft says it is locking down WOA devices for security reasons. With the system closed to all but approved software and updated via Microsoft Update, the company can minimize the malicious code that gets onto the machines and quickly patch vulnerabilities as they pop up. The goal, it says, is to provide a responsive, reliable user experience.