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Google Sponsors the LinuxBIOS project 172

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the guts-like-to-be-free-too dept.
Rockgod noted that "The LinuxBIOS project aims to take down the last barrier in Open Source systems by providing a free firmware (BIOS) implementation. LinuxBIOS celebrates its Sixth anniversary this year, and has an installed base of over 1 million LinuxBIOS systems. With the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, that number is expected to exceed 10 million users in 2007. LinuxBIOS supports 65 mainboards from 31 vendors in v1 and another 56 mainboards from 27 vendors in v2"
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Google Sponsors the LinuxBIOS project

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  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @10:53AM (#16851986)
    to Open Source systems since the microprocessor and other PC hardware is not open.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by McNihil (612243)
      So the sparc processor doesn't count?

      http://www.sun.com/processors/opensparc/ [sun.com]

      Enlightened yet?
      • I can't evaluate the level of openness of opensparc in a few minutes, but in any case, I don't think the fact that one of the minor microprocessor players (in terms of volume) has opened up their design allows one to conclude that an open BIOS is the last barrier to an open system. In fact, Sun wouldn't be opening it up if it thought that the sparc was still a viable player in the marketplace.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by squiggleslash (241428)

          They opened up SPARC decades ago, and while they didn't start with a GPL'd reference implementation, they have released a number since.

          This is just the way Sun works. It has nothing to do with them deciding whether the architecture is a viable player or not.

          • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @12:09PM (#16853092) Homepage Journal
            What would be the point of a GPL hardware implementation to the individual user?
            Who would have the skill (to say nothing of the fab) to make a change to the hardware, and then distribute it?
            • by Kadin2048 (468275) <[slashdot.kadin] [at] [xoxy.net]> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @12:44PM (#16853772) Homepage Journal
              End users aren't going to modify their processors and have them fabricated, but then again, "end users" for the most part, aren't going to open up the source code to their applications and make any sort of nontrivial adjustments to them, and recompile them.

              Writing code and recompiling a piece of software is almost as much a black art to most people, as designing a microprocessor and fabricating a chip is.

              Source code is meaningless gibberish to most users, regardless of whether that source code describes hardware or software. Code written in VHDL is just a slightly more arcane strain of gibberish than C, but still meaningless.

              Most people (who have even the foggiest idea of open source) benefit from it indirectly: by having higher-quality products to begin with, and having them available from more vendors, and having a guarantee that if a vendor tanks, that their product stands a better chance of being supported by somebody else (because another company or organization can take it over). This would also be true with hardware. An open and well-documented chip design would be available, were it popular, from a variety of vendors, and even if one vendor went out of business, the design would survive. These benefits exist even to people who cannot understand code, and exist for both hardware and software.
            • Getting a chip made with last year or the year before's process is actually surprisingly cheap. You're looking at around the $2000 per chip mark for runs as small as a few tens. Once you get the volume up, the price drops a lot. It won't drop as low as an off-the-shelf chip, but sometimes you pay a price for freedom.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by T-Ranger (10520)
          The SPARC processor has (nearly) always been "open" for the 1990+/-5 definition of "open". Its design is managed by SPARC International, which besides Sun includes TI, Cypress Semiconductor, and Fujitsu.

          But anyway...

          The processor of a system is. Being "open" to change doesn't really get you anything. If you have enough money to do a production run of a modern CPU, then the costs of buying into SPARC International, or the reference design of MIPS, or an IBM POWER, etc, etc, is nothing. Getting a custom chip
        • Pegasos is an open system - including the schematics [osnews.com]. This is similar architecture the Apple Macintosh used to be based on.

          Besides with Linux it doesn't really matter what the architecture is. Linux runs just as well on Sparc, PPC, and X86.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DragonWriter (970822)
      "Hardware" doesn't have "source code", so long as the software is open source, that would be removing all the barriers to "open source" systems.

      It wouldn't be the last barrier to "open" systems, which would require some analogus open regime for hardware, but it wouldn't be "open source".
      • Actually processors are often implemented using microcode, so some hardware can and does have source code.

        In any case, if you exclude the hardware, there is no such thing as an "open source system", only "open source software".
        • Actually processors are often implemented using microcode, so some hardware can and does have source code.

          Microcode certainly has source code, which is the source code for software included in or with the hardware, but not source code for the hardware itself.

          Microcode could be open sourced, but that wouldn't make the hardware itself open source.

          In any case, if you exclude the hardware, there is no such thing as an "open source system", only "open source software".

          This seems to presuppose that the word "syst

          • "Microcode certainly has source code, which is the source code for software included in or with the hardware, but not source code for the hardware itself."

            Are you confusing microcode with machine code? Microcode implements the instruction set in a processor, machine code is a program that uses the instruction set. From the outside, microcode is part of the hardware because the processor will not function without it.

            I think in the context where hardware is part of the discussion (which it must be for a BIOS
            • Are you confusing microcode with machine code?

              No.

              Microcode implements the instruction set in a processor,

              Typically, microcode (as I understand it) implements a part of the instruction set in a processor, built on a smaller "kernel" of instructions implemented more directly.

              From the outside, microcode is part of the hardware because the processor will not function without it.

              Sure, when looking at the machine it is part of; from a development perspective, its like a conventional set of utilities written to ru

    • opencores.org (Score:3, Informative)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
  • Why would a major manufacturer of motheboards want to stay away from Linux for BIOS?
    What do Award and Phoenix have better than Linux?
    • by runderwo (609077) <{gro.niw.liam} {ta} {owrednur}> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:07AM (#16852160)
      LinuxBIOS is not compatible with legacy DOS-based PC operating systems and the GPL does not allow for proprietary extensions.
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) <[slashdot.kadin] [at] [xoxy.net]> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:10AM (#16852192) Homepage Journal
      Aren't the BIOS/firmware revisions specific to various motherboard models?

      I always assumed that they were made by Award and Phoenix in conjunction with the mobo/chipset manufacturers, because the BIOS was specific to a particular configuration of parts, and wouldn't be interchangeable.

      So if you did write an "open source BIOS," how would you keep it up to date with the multitude of different chipsets and motherboards? Wouldn't each one require its own modified version? Seems like, unless the major motherboard manufacturers commit to using LinuxBIOS, that they'll forever be playing catch-up, trying to modify and QA their revisions against new pieces of hardware. Which I guess isn't a bad thing, but it seems like it'll never be mainstream that way.
      • by sgtrock (191182) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:17AM (#16852296)
        If a motherboard vendor chooses to use the FOSS BIOS, then I would assume that the vendor would recognize that it was in their interest to make sure that any changes to the hardware elements on their motherboard lines would necessarily require that they demand that their parts vendors work with the FOSS BIOS project to make sure that the low level drivers are working correctly.

        I suppose it's possible that such a motherboard vendor might want to donate engineering time and samples to the project as well. They would have to weigh the cost of that effort against a host of other costs; licensing costs to use Award or Phoenix, the size of the expected market for the combined product, etc. Show them that the FOSS BIOS will work for MS Vista and they'll have a real incentive to push for it. Tell them that the market will be limited to just Linux and *BSD and they'll probably lose interest really fast.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by davidsyes (765062)
          But, then microsoft would just starve the BIOS and MOBO makers of marketing dollars. Sure, make it compatible/supportive of Vista, but them mshaft will just make the OS kernel check the BIOS maker ID-- IDs assigned by mshaft. As much as I'd love to see the hardware more Linux-friendly, I have no doubt it'll still be some time off.

          Heck, I have TWO EZ-Cam webcams I bought back in 2001 or 2002. The designers sometimes allow their contract manufacturers to change up components for almost-the-same depending upon
          • by sgtrock (191182)
            Interesting story, but how is it relevant to what I posted? If the mobo vendor doesn't know what components he's buying/substituting, no one does. If one of his subcontractors is substituting parts without notifying him, how on earth will an Award or Phoenix BIOS resolve the problem better than a FOSS BIOS?
          • by Rutulian (171771)
            But, then microsoft would just starve the BIOS and MOBO makers of marketing dollars. Sure, make it compatible/supportive of Vista, but them mshaft will just make the OS kernel check the BIOS maker ID-- IDs assigned by mshaft. As much as I'd love to see the hardware more Linux-friendly, I have no doubt it'll still be some time off.

            Wait, I missed the part where you explained why exactly MS would want to do this? Microsoft isn't in the bios business. Why would they care who writes the bios?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        This isn't just a random open source BIOS though. It's based on the linux kernel, and all the hardware support that entails. Or well, as much as you can cram into your kernel image. This kernel then bootstraps to another kernel (or through ADLO, apparently can run WinXP or Win2k's NTLDR.) The only bootloaders it in fact supports are NTLDR and LILO, apparently.

    • Control.

      They can control most, if not all, of what hardware is used by the motherboard. DRM? Sure, we can force that.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:25AM (#16852406) Homepage
      Why would a major manufacturer of motheboards want to stay away from Linux for BIOS?

      What do Award and Phoenix have better than Linux?

      two simple reasons.

      1 - they do what they are told by the OS and content industries. "Trusted computing" is a buzzword they spent lots of money on.
      2 - A linux Bios will not have the ability to lock the user on DRM or Os choices. something they desperately want at Microsoft. D oyuo think a company will make a motherboard that microsoft will refuse to support their os on? how about one that will never run windows VistaXP2 with "Protect you from you" technology? because the Bios does not refuse to boot an OS without a Microsoft certificate?

      Try and buy yourself an ATX Alpha processor motherboard or Power PC motherboard. They exist but are insane priced because nobody buys them but uber geeks and research/science people....

      Do you want your next Linux computer to cost you 3 times as much because your Motherboard costs $1800.00?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kfg (145172)
        Try and buy yourself an ATX Alpha processor motherboard or Power PC motherboard. They exist but are insane priced because nobody buys them but uber geeks and research/science people....

        Similarly 12/24/48VDC ATX power supplies are also available off the shelf; at about three hudred bucks a pop. But if you're the sort of uber geek research/science person who really needs one, well, that's what you pay.

        However, if, eventually, enough people get sick enough of the MS locked down systems there just might be a ma
        • by suggsjc (726146)

          However, if, eventually, enough people get sick enough of the MS locked down systems...

          Sorry to burst your bubble, but that has been the line for everything that the /. crowd has for anything that comes out of Redmond. "Just wait, people are going to get fed up with ___"

          Its been said that people are going to boycot iTunes because they are going to get "fed up with DRM" but I'll believe that when I see it.

          Its been said that people are going to boycot Vista because of "not supporting legacy hardware", "

    • by cp.tar (871488)
      What do Award and Phoenix have better than Linux?

      Well, they support my mobo, for one...

      Now, when LinuxBIOS becomes available for A8N-E or whichever mobo I'll be running on at that time, I'll gladly try it out. Until then, though...

  • I immediately pictured a guy walking around with a gaping hole in his torso, with all of his internal organs dangling about, dragging along, behind him, etc.

    An I the only one?
    • by byolinux (535260) *
      Dude, you're thinking of goatse.
    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)
      I was kind of thinking of a spleen singing "Born Free."
      • That works well too. Or maybe freebird? And in regards to [some of] the modders: hehehe, sorry to anyone who thought I was trolling, it's just my disgusting, repulsive sense of humor, and the comment was on that one little blurb, not the content of the article itself. Lighten the hell up.
  • by smitty97 (995791) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:01AM (#16852100)
    uh.. EFI [wikipedia.org] & TianoCore ?
    • Don't forget Open Firmware, which I think just requires you to just purchase the documentation and maybe not even that.
    • uh.. EFI & TianoCore ?
      Since you included a "?", I believe the answer you are looking for is "Turd" , although Linus may have put it best when he called it "the other piece of Intel brain damage".

      BBH
    • You do realize that the only purpose of creating EFI (as opposed to simply using OpenFirmware, which already exists) is to enable DRM, right?

    • by real gumby (11516)
      Unfortunately implementing EFI requires you to license Microsoft's FAT filesystem patent [microsoft.com] which was upheld at the beginning of this year by the PTO.

      I added a dispassionate (NPV) comment about this to the EFI page in the Wikipedia but had it deleted. A pity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DeathPenguin (449875) *
      uhhh: https://www.tianocore.org/nonav/servlets/LegalNot i ces?type=TermsOfService [tianocore.org]

      "You acknowledge and agree that You will not, directly or indirectly: (i) reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble or otherwise attempt to discover the underlying source code or underlying ideas or algorithms of the Software; (ii) modify, translate, or create derivative works based on the Software; (iii) rent, lease, distribute, sell, resell or assign, or otherwise transfer rights to the Software; or (iv) remove any proprietary
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:05AM (#16852130) Journal
    If a company is selling mobos with these on it, now is the time to speak up. It strikes as this will be free advertisement. If not, this might be the time to start selling.
  • by Aladrin (926209)

    From the site:

    LinuxBIOS has a problem

    Sorry! This site is experiencing technical difficulties.

    Try waiting a few minutes and reloading.

    Knew that'd get your attention ;) I really wanted a list of motherboards that support this... I think it would be really neat to have a customizeable BIOS.

  • by Otter (3800) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:11AM (#16852220) Journal
    With the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project [CC], that number is expected to exceed 10 million users in 2007.

    1) Given that yesterday's news was that OLPC managed to produce a whole 10 computers, and that we're now halfway through November 2006 -- yeah, I can't see how they could possibly fail to hit 10 million in 2007!

    2) Has Googlefawning now hit the point where it's no longer necessary for Google or the Slashdot story to explain exactly what it is that "Google sponsors" means? (Apparently they paid for a build system. Take that, Gates Foundation!)

    • by Ant P. (974313) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:55AM (#16852874) Homepage
      10 computers? That's odd, I could've sworn they made a few more than that [0xdeadbeef.com].
      • by Otter (3800)
        I couldn't resist the urge to use Irritating Nerd Sarcasm, either, so I'm not in a position to chide you for it...

        So they made 10 machines, sent out a press release, and then made another 190?!? I don't quite understand the logic. Oh, and these aren't the final design, so at the moment the total number of actual OLPCs produced is ten less than I had thought.

        In any case, it's not obvious how this scales to 10 million in 13 months.

    • by rbanffy (584143)
      Idiot.

      they hand assembled a couple units from the parts that will be used in the production lines to make sure everything works and that the production process does what is expected from it.

      After they say "yes, this is right" they will start the assembly lines that will mass-produce the computers.
    • Given that yesterday's news was that OLPC managed to produce a whole 10 computers, and that we're now halfway through November 2006 -- yeah, I can't see how they could possibly fail to hit 10 million in 2007!


      It wasn't like the 10 computers were all they could produce, its all they had planned to produce for this phase of testing.

      Still, 10 million units in the hands of end users by the end of 2007 is probably optimistic.
  • I'm not trolling but I really don't understand the point of an open source BIOS.
    I like linux because (in theory) I can look at the source code and see whats
    running and modify it and hence modify my enviroment. Why would I care about the
    BIOS? For all intents and purpose it just the first stage bootstrap system for
    the hardware. As long as it does this quickly and simply who cares who or how
    its written? Ok , if ever BIOSes had some sort of DRM style restrictions installed
    them yes , maybe it'll have a use. But
    • 1) It's fast.
      2) No unnecessary hardware initialization or checks
      3) Stupid bootstrapping tricks (if your onboard bios can't boot from it, linuxbios probably can)
    • That's not exactly true, the BIOS also provides all your I/O services. So you may want to have more granular control of that I/O for example. You may also want to provide features that don't exist in OEM firmware such as remote BIOS management for headless servers. There are several potential benefits on the server, but you're right in that 99% of desktop users wouldn't have much interest in this beyond potential performance gains.
      • by Viol8 (599362)
        >That's not exactly true, the BIOS also provides all your I/O services

        AFAIA the BIOS hasn't provided I/O services since 16 bit DOS days. I can't
        see why linux or any other 32 bit OS would switch into 16 bit mode to access
        some crusty HD or floppy driver when they've got their own anyway.
        • by prefect42 (141309)
          That's great for before your OS is loaded. Have you never had a remote serial connection to a server pre-boot before? In fact, have you never booted a machine from a remote CDROM before?
          • by rubycodez (864176)
            such features are often supplied by yet another microprocessor with yet another BIOS, that's going beyond just having the main machine's BIOS opened sourced. You'd need to at least know how and what it interfaces with in the main system
          • by Viol8 (599362)
            "Have you never had a remote serial connection to a server pre-boot before? In fact, have you never booted a machine from a remote CDROM before?"

            Funnily enough - no. And whats your point anyway? It still won't use the BIOS I/O once the OS is up and running.
            • by richlv (778496)
              i'm not completely sure, but what about cases when bios update was required to support more/different ram ?
              then there are simply bugs in bios that vendor refuses to fix.
              and when you get to suspending/resuming and broken bios implementations... given the hype that "laptops sell better than desktops !", this is becoming more and more important.
      • by Viol8 (599362)
        Ah , well in that case maybe there is a point to it :) I didn't realise this genie was almost out of the bottle already.
        • by rs232 (849320)
          "An apparatus that includes a BIOS routine, and a method executed during a BIOS routine, that includes a stored BIOS program causing a computer to receive information, including error [freepatentsonline.com] information"

          "Methods, apparatus .. for ensuring compatibility [freepatentsonline.com] between an operating system and a BIOS redirection component"

          A method of initializing a computer system equipped with a debugging [freepatentsonline.com] system"

          "a set of BIOS resume tasks [freepatentsonline.com] specific to that operating system type are dispatched for execution in response to a slee
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eno2001 (527078)
      Actually, I think of it in almost the opposite way... Why isn't the base OS kernel sitting on an eeprom on the MoBo talking directly to hardware and thereby completely obviating BIOS? I remember back on my Atari ST, they had a 512k ROM that had GEM/GEMDOS in it. If I didn't pop a floppy into the drive, the system still booted to a desktop using the ROM image. If I did pop a floppy into the drive, then the OS loaded off the floppy. The main point being that all interfacing to basic hardware on the ST wa
      • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
        ``But I STILL to this day believe that the OS kernel should talk to and provide low level support for the MOBO components.''

        Don't Linux and the BSD kernels do that, anyway? I've only had a cursory look at it, but it appear to me that one of the first things the kernel does is switch to protected mode (where BIOS doesn't exist, right?), then starts detecting and initializing hardware...kind of like a BIOS does.
    • Oh RMS might care. I, personally could not give a crap.

    • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elgaard (81259) <elgaard@a g o l . dk> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:57AM (#16852896) Homepage
      > Why would I care about the BIOS?

      For the same reason you care about other programs being open. E.g.

      - Fixing bug. Eg hibernate problems.

      - Checking for bugs and backdoord.

      - Improving it to your needs. E.g., I would like to be able to boot from USB-disks or a CFlash card in a PCI-adaptor.
      Or I could remove unnecessary stuff and put in a shell. Or an SSH server i the BIOS.

      - Performance. My BIOS is slow. It does a lot of unnecessary things.

      - Consistency. Next time I get a new computer, it would be nice to have the same bios. A company might prefer to use the same BIOS on all computers.
    • Why would I care about the BIOS? For all intents and purpose it just the first stage bootstrap system for the hardware.

      First, I think open firmware is important for developers and interoperability. It may not be important to your everyday use for those reasons, but most people don't ever make a change to Linux, but they do benefit from the results of its code being open. Second, and this seems to be the most overlooked part of this, is this is a way to let legacy hardware without Linux drivers, run Linux

    • Why would I care about the BIOS? For all intents and purpose it just the first stage bootstrap system for the hardware. As long as it does this quickly and simply who cares who or how its written?

      Because, like me, you might be stuck using a Dell Latitude D610 laptop.

      One which locks up hard when you have a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 plugged into it during boot time.

      And you might be rather disappointed in the fact that when you open up a support ticket with Dell, they ignore it complete

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arcade (16638)
      I'll give you an answer, from my point of view.

      Have you ever used Solaris? On Sun Hardware? It's great to able to send the OS a 'break', and get an OK> prompt, where you can configure low-level stuff. It's one of the things that makes me love Sun+Solaris way more than I love linux.

      Even better would be if we could have a standard co-processor-thingie listening on the serial port, like on SUN, where "lights-out-management" could be done. I really like that feature of Sun hardware too :p

      HP's ILO and Del
    • by sxpert (139117)
      take for instance the Via EPIA M 10000, with the latest bios drop from nvidia... I use PXE to boot the thing remotely. problem, I need to power cycle the motherboard for the PXE part to actually correctly function. a standard reboot will just have the PXE stuff hanging there with no chance of booting. talk about useless crap
    • by richlv (778496)
      a practical example :
      fujitsu-siemens lifebook c series 1020 laptop has broken usb controller suspending part (and probably also video chipset stuff somewhat).
      i was unable to get the problem solved from them despite several attempts. i'd guess i could have more chances with weird guys all over the globe just doing this for fun.

      then there was an asrock mobo with broken acpi tables data (two bytes swapped). i was lucky that it was brand new mobo, so i even got a bios update from them - but i got it personally
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by J.R. Random (801334)

      If you actually read the LinuxBIOS web site, you will see that a prime motivation was to allow remote updating of the BIOS on Linux clusters. It beats attaching a keyboard to each of 256 motherboards and updating them one by one.

      Manufacturers of embedded systems are likely to be interested in a BIOS that is free and fast.

      It is not so clear what the benefits are for Joe and Mary desktop user. I'm sure most Linux users will continue to use the BIOS that comes with their board.

  • First, the Website seems to be slashdotted, but anyone interested can get the basics about LinuxBIOS from the wikipedia page [wikipedia.org].

    After reading said page it looks like this is an attempt to make a fast, barebones BIOS replacement without all the cruft of traditional BIOSes. Like others, however, I'm not sure I see the use for this on servers and workstations when compared to EFI or Open Firmware, both of which are already deployed. My current laptop boots via EFI. What disadvantage is there to me that this proj

    • And OpenFirmware is difficult for add-on card makers to support. LinuxBIOS sort of sidesteps the issue by supporting the necessary hardware directly (drawing from the existing pool of device driver support).
      • LinuxBIOS targets pre-EFI machines.

        Okay that limits the scope of this project to primarily legacy hardware?

        And OpenFirmware is difficult for add-on card makers to support.

        Okay, so ignore the old PPC macs laying around as Linux already has drivers.

        LinuxBIOS sort of sidesteps the issue by supporting the necessary hardware directly...

        So this is a replacement for BIOS on legacy machines allowing Linux to run on them even if the Linux drivers for the boards were never written. That makes sense as a w

        • Most new Intel Core 2 systems and all workstation and server AMD systems come with "legacy" BIOS. Very few vendors ship with EFI at all even if it is supported, especially on platforms that are to be compatible with 32-bit operating systems (stock Windows XP).

          So LinuxBIOS is still very relevant. In fact, it is still useful even if EFI was prevelant, as it is popular in the construction of clustered systems with homogeneous hardware. It makes dealing with distributed consoles and disk arrays simpler, and you
          • Most new Intel Core 2 systems and all workstation and server AMD systems come with "legacy" BIOS.

            True, but for Intel and AMD systems this is pretty unlikely to last very long once Vista ships. They both already have it in production and neither wants to be left behind.

            So LinuxBIOS is still very relevant.

            I didn't say it wasn't relevant, I spoke to the scope of the relevance which was misrepresented in the summary.

            In fact, it is still useful even if EFI was prevelant, as it is popular in the construc

            • The summary (to me) implied nothing about the purpose of the LinuxBIOS firmware. Was it confusing that the one example usage as the OLPC project? To me, it was obvious that it is used in the OLPC project is a by-product of wanting to reduce the per-machine royalty costs, since the hardware is well-known and standardized (compare to a cluster).
              End-user have no need to worry about such an issue, they buy mainboards with BIOS bundled, and absorb the per-unit cost which is not worth mentioning. What would make
            • True, but for Intel and AMD systems this is pretty unlikely to last very long once Vista ships. They both already have it in production and neither wants to be left behind.

              I think it'll last at least another full Windows release cycle. 32-bit Vista won't support EFI. 64-bit Vista will, but is too locked down for some users. Gamers (and anyone else who wants to use unsigned drivers in Windows) will need BIOS for a long time to come.
        • >>Okay that limits the scope of this project to primarily legacy hardware?

          Nope. It works great with current hardware as well. AMD's been particularly helpful and has developers contributing quite often. Rev. F Opterons are already supported, for example.

          >>Okay, so ignore the old PPC macs laying around as Linux already has drivers.

          LinuxBIOS supports some PPCs, I'm not exactly sure which ones. Pease check wiki.linuxbios.org at a later time (When it's not slashdotted) for more info.

          >>So this
  • by tji (74570) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:31AM (#16852502)

    I have seen this mentioned every so often here, and I am interested in trying it out. But, the stuff I read blurs the line between what I think of as BIOS functions and the actual OS. So, I am not sure if it's worth trying out or not.

    Does anyone have pointers to good information, or experience themselves? The kind of questions I have are:

    - Do I still have the configuration capabilities that you expect in a Phoenix/Award BIOS? En/Dis-able integrated devices, Fan Control, ACPI en/dis-able, etc.

    - The articles all say that LinuxBIOS boots a linux kernel very quickly. Is this into a limited BIOS setup environment, or is this the actual kernel for the Operating System that you're running? If it's the latter, don't kernel upgrades become more difficult/dangerous? (Are there any docs which go through the system bootstrap process step by step?)

    - Is AMD64 (in 64 bit mode) supported?

    - Beyond the Linux hobbyist incentive to try out new things, are there any other major advantages to using LinuxBIOS on my home Linux server (which is a supported board)? Do I lose anything my current Award BIOS offers?
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      I heard one of the big benefits was a much faster boot time.
      The way Google builds system I wouldn't be shocked if they bought a motherboard company. They could build motherboards that fit their exact requirements.
    • by Shewmaker (28126) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @02:19PM (#16855578) Homepage
      You can edit a plain text file in user space and write it to CMOS with at utility like lxbios [sourceforge.net] or cmos_util [lnxi.com]. The options I've seen are: boot sequence related, ECC memory related, power on after failure, debug level, cpu throttling, and NMI related. I didn't see anything about the enabling and disabling of devices or fan control, but I'm sure it depends on how much effort the developers have put into a particular chipset/motherboard.

      LinuxBIOS supports several different types of payloads: Linux, Open Firmware, Etherboot, etc. If you are using a Linux kernel payload, then you probably don't want to be upgrading it often. In that case, you can set up the first kernel to kexec a second kernel (before kexec, there was a patch called the two kernel monte).

      AMD64's 64-bit mode is definitely supported.

      It's not trivial (yet) to boot a version of MS Windows with LinuxBIOS, but using Linux as a BIOS can give all sorts of benefits. One very interesting capability for people running beowulf clusters is that you can boot over any network device that Linux supports (e.g. Myrinet or Infiniband). That may not mean anything to a regular home user, but the point is that you have a whole lot more flexibility in what you can do. Even if you don't want to make it boot your home system over your wireless LAN, it does increase your freedom and it prevents people from nibbling away at the freedom you already have.

      I would say freedom from future DRM really is the biggest incentive for trying out LinuxBIOS at home. You can avoid Intel's EFI standard (they're pushing for it to be on all desktops and servers), which will enable companies to inflict DRM on you. Linus has made some very good points about why EFI is not good [kerneltrap.org]. One way to look at EFI is that it is basically an OS, and not a very good one.

      There are several white papers and tutorials that do a good job of explaining how LinuxBIOS works. Look at the LinuxBIOS documentation [linuxbios.org] section.

  • Harddisk encryption (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ignatius (6850) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @11:51AM (#16852822)
    A customizable BIOS with the Kernel in flash would be the proper place to setup user authentication, software harddisk encryption, firewall rules and VPNs. If supported by the kernel (AFAIK OpenBSD has such a feature; don't know about Linux), you could switch the OS into a secure mode after boot up and initialization where it is no longer possible to change certain settings before you even access the harddrive.

    It's basically as close as you can get to "tamper-proof" by a software-only approach and for notebooks, it would provide some reasonable theft protection, esp. if combined with a "this notebook is the property of ....." banner on startup and some epoxy over the bios flash rom ...
  • Actually, the BIOS keeps company with lots of proprietary drivers and codecs that are distributed only in binary, protected by either copyrights or even patents. The BIOS can be seen as a driver for the entire OS on the PC HW. The codecs can be seen as drivers for the transmission HW.

    So there is a whole layer of Linux that remains outside the Open Source domain. There are plenty of open drivers and codecs, proving that it's entirely possible to open them, probably to open them all.

    Opening the BIOS is a big
  • A lot of people have asked why you would want to use Linux for your BIOS. Generally it comes down to speed and flexibility. First, a Linux BIOS can be faster, because instead of having to check all the system RAM, test out all the integrated hardware, do SMART drive checks, and all the stuff a modern BIOS does to be "user friendly", it can just look for the disk it needs and boot, after initializing things like the memory controller. Second, a Linux BIOS is more flexible, because it can be programmed to

  • I'd like to know if anyone is using this on a mainstream desktop motherbaord. Most of the supported boards listed are of the industrial server variety; I can understand why. Instant on Linux, on the desktop is something that I have been craving for quite some time.
  • Just a reminder to everyone--Open Firmware is a specification, not an implementation. An open implementation currently available is OpenBIOS [openbios.info] which can be used in conjunction with LinuxBIOS.
  • by burns210 (572621) <maburns@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:08PM (#16857782) Homepage Journal
    As of a few weeks ago, the OLPC project isn't using [mail-archive.com] LinuxBIOS anymore, they have moved to OpenFirmware from Sun, which was recently open sourced. Sorry to burst the bubble.
    • by chgros (690878)
      If you read your link, they are still using LinuxBIOS, but not as a bootloader anymore (only as a BIOS)

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