Linux is a common operating system, not least in its Android version, and it is universally assumed that a PC (or whatever “IBM compatible” is called these days) will be able to run it. In fact, machines that can’t run Linux are extremely rare since aficionados keep porting the open-source operating system to even the most obscure and outdated machine families.
One of the PC makers who sell Linux compatible computers is Samsung. That is, almost all of their machines can run Linux, and when it was discovered last January that some recent laptops cannot, it was universally seen as a bug. Nobody designs a Linux-incompatible PC on purpose. It became big news, though I myself didn’t learn about it at the time. It was also soon discovered that a Linux boot is not the only way the bug can be triggered — Windows users are also at risk.
The problem is known as the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug. I won’t go into details I don’t understand: suffice to say that it has to do with the bootup sequence, where Samsung’s engineers have embraced the new UEFI technology without testing it sufficiently with Linux.
The bug they inserted is pretty serious. The Samsung UEFI BIOS bug disables a machine’s bootup firmware entirely if you boot Linux under certain circumstances. This renders the computer dead, without even the distasteful option of reverting to Windows. Your computer becomes a brick.
This happened to me Friday before last. I bought a Samsung NP535U3C laptop in July, immediately installed the most recent version of Mint, the most widely used Linux distribution, and happily used my new machine for 3½ months. Then I fiddled around a tad too much (as Linux users are wont to do) and had to reinstall the operating system, using the same disc as back in July. This time though I seem to have touched the UEFI settings, and my machine became unresponsive. Only then did I learn about the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug.
I paid about $1000 for that machine, and I had expected to use it for years, not 3½ months. So I asked the retailer, Elgiganten, to reimburse me for the obviously flawed piece of hardware they had sold me. I mean, its 2013 and I expect to be able to run Linux on my laptop — and to be able to boot the machine afterwards. No dice: they refused on the grounds that a) “it’s a software error”, and b) “changing your operating system is like switching engines in your car from one make to another”.
Having become a former customer of Elgiganten’s, I turned to Samsung’s support desk. There one Jim likewise refused to help me, instructing me instead to “contact linux” (!) and ask for help. Where does Samsung find these people?
After continued prodding from me, Jim directed me to Samsung’s court of appeal, “Voice of Customer”, in Gothenburg. Their representative Madeleine refused to help too, making the somewhat odd claim that “no production flaw has been determined”. In my opinion, a non-standard BIOS bug that renders the machine unresponsive is a textbook production flaw.
Then she continued, “I’ve checked with our head technician for matters like these, and when the preinstalled operating system is changed or the customers installs a new one, that is their responsibility and sadly not something whose functionality we can guarantee.” No, I’m not asking Samsung to guarantee that Linux works. The Linux community has that covered for me. I’m asking Samsung to guarantee that it will be possible to boot my laptop at all.
I look forward to learning what the Consumer Protection Ombudsman thinks about this.