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Blurring The Line Between BIOS And OS 290

Jon Kincade writes "The Register has an article about Phoenix Technologies cME software that allows users on anything from servers to embedded systems to run diagnostics, browse the web and other things without having to boot into a full fledged OS. The primary use seems to be recovery from system crashes. Also, this may explain why the Phoenix browser was asked to change its name a few months ago."
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Blurring The Line Between BIOS And OS

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  • Finally! (Score:4, Funny)

    by creative_name ( 459764 ) <pauls@[ ]edu ['ou.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:48PM (#5329944)
    Command line browsing at it's best!

    Look out ASCII porn here come the BIOSonly users of the world ;-)
    • Lameness filter encountered. Post aborted!
      Reason: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.
  • Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:51PM (#5329979)
    I find this to be rather bad. The more complexity in the BIOS, the more and greater chance for a bug. What a great day it will be when the TCP stack in your BIOS is rootable and your machine can be flashed by some kiddie. I know, I know - not likely/possible/whatever, but I know it will happen someday.

    Complexity is mostly bad. Complexity in software leads to bugs. Complexity in BIOS breaks the "Basic" part of BIOS.

    Better BIOS - I am all for that. BIOS with the the "OS" standing for "Operating Systems" is not a good thing IMHO.
    • Re:Bad (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But I thought BIOS stood for "Built-In Operating System". And everyone knows the web browser is a fundamental component of any OS, built-in or otherwise. I'd almost go so far as to say the two should be tied together.
      • Basic Input-Output System.

        I assume you were kidding, but you never know ;)
      • BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System, and as for the idea of enahancing the BIOS kindof defeats the purpose of having a bare bones way of controling the hardware, however if it is implemented well, it could provide a good intermediate level between the BIOS and a full OS for low level diagnostics, but i don't see a need for web browsing.

        my 2c

        • Re:Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Pharmboy ( 216950 )
          BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System, and as for the idea of enahancing the BIOS kindof defeats the purpose of having a bare bones way of controling the hardware, however if it is implemented well, it could provide a good intermediate level between the BIOS and a full OS for low level diagnostics, but i don't see a need for web browsing.

          Admittedly, I'm over my head here, but can't you have a complex BIOS that gets out of the way when the OS boots, or acts as a mini OS when the real OS wont load?

          I mean most support for computers is online now, and its kinda hard to log in to "" if the damn thing won't boot.

          Why can't the bios be both? for instance: IBM used to have a BASIC interpretor in bios (286 and pre), but it didnt get used unless the system didn't find an OS. It didn't get in the way.
          • Re:Bad (Score:3, Informative)

            by fishbowl ( 7759 )
            "Admittedly, I'm over my head here, but can't you have a complex BIOS that gets out of the way when the OS boots, or acts as a mini OS when the real OS wont load?"

            Sun firmware contains a FORTH interpreter that "can" do "anything". It offers all kinds of access to hardware, and can even be used to tune the OS after boot. There's a symbolic debugger, facilities for running programs that don't need an OS, and tty support. If you wanted/needed to be clever, you could do *anything* from here.

            Except for the fact that PCs follow certain design factors (decisions made in the early-mid 1980s), there is no reason we couldn't have something similar in the PC world.

    • Re:Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by azmaveth ( 302274 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:05PM (#5330164) Homepage
      I agree.

      The whole point of a "Basic Input/Output System" is for, well, basic I/O. It was meant to be a thin layer between the OS and the hardware.

      While I agree that the technology can be improved upon, I don't think this is the proper direction to take.

      I much prefer the route that Gigabyte has taken with their DualBIOS []. If there is serious enough trouble with the OS, just boot to a CD with recovery tools on it. If there's a problem in the BIOS, you now have a spare. I don't see the necessity of a TCP/IP stack in the BIOS.

      My $0.02.
      • by XNormal ( 8617 )
        The whole point of a "Basic Input/Output System" is for, well, basic I/O. It was meant to be a thin layer between the OS and the hardware.

        I always thought BIOS stands for "Built-In Obsolete Software".
    • Back in the day (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:20PM (#5330314)
      we used to buy the magazines, go to the stores and log on to the net to be eagerly greeted with hot new tech that made us want to immediately scrap the $10k worth of goodies we'd just bought the week before.

      Now it seems that every day brings "innovations" that seem designed to further my intent to hang on to what I've got forever if I can manage it.

      What's wrong with this picture?

      • You, sir (or madam), are getting old. It is a natural process, please do not be afraid and keep your hands in the car at all times.

        Enjoy the ride.

        • Re:Back in the day (Score:3, Insightful)

          by unitron ( 5733 )
          It has a lot less to do with getting old than it does with a desire to avoid getting hosed by new stuff that's worse than the old stuff and designed more to extend the manufacturer's control over you than your control over the equipment.
    • Re:Bad (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WhaDaYaKnow ( 563683 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @09:13PM (#5331194)
      I totally agree this is bad.

      I understand Phoenix is trying to protect their business, but really, the days of the BIOS as it is should be over.

      The BIOS is a legacy piece of crap that serves practically no purpose, but to boot the OS.

      The services provided for the "Input/Output" go largely unused, mainly because the majority are 16 bit services and no modern OS has a way to call them in the first place (well, without a high latency). Even the 32 bit services go largely unused,- PCI for example is practically always implemented by a driver that does direct IO vs. calling the BIOS.

      In other words, non of the most prominent operating systems call the BIOS for services such as RS-232, IDE, LPT, Video, you name it, after the apprioriate drivers are loaded.

      The REAL purpose of the BIOS should be: initialize the hardware up to a point so that it can boot the OS. This means memory initialization, some timer and interrupt related stuff and whatever code is required for the boot devices (I personally think IDE and Ethernet are the most important, but I can see that USB and SCSI are important to a lot of people)

      After that the BIOS should load the OS image and be done.

      Don't think I'm making this thing up; I've actually implemented a boot loader that completely eliminated the need for a BIOS and it was very fast; ready to boot of the harddrive as soon as the harddrive was spin up (e.g. 3 seconds!)

      LinuxBIOS is doing something similar.

      Anyways, sorry for this little rant without any proper links or so, but I gotta go to be in time for Apres-Ski happy hour! :-)
      • Re:Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Spoing ( 152917 )
        The BIOS is a legacy piece of crap that serves practically no purpose, but to boot the OS.

        Let's hammer that home, shall we? Instead of a minimialist BIOS setup, Award and Asus have decided that the following features are more important than conextual help on the P4PE (rev. 1.03) board;

        1. Audio POST messages; yep, it speaks the error messages.

        2. Graphical boot logo; yep, an advertisement for Asus.

        3. 6 types of power on options:

          1. AC power loss restart,
          2. wake/power up on external modem,
          3. power up on PCI card,
          4. power up by PS/2 keyboard,
          5. by mouse,
          6. Automatic power up each day at a specific time,
          7. Automatic power up by a specific day of the month with alarm

        4. ...yet, no boot option for USB or firewire devices; no boot off of that USB pen or external CDRW.

          That's not all...

        5. Turn off some of the ports (game, serial, ...) and the system either won't boot or it will disable other seemingly unrelated ports.

        6. Automatic boot into BIOS setup after boot. This is supposed to reset CPU timings if the system crashes due to overclocking. Please. This time around, unlike the old versions of this misguided feature, it is possible to disable it.

        7. ...speaking of disabling things, the boot sector virus detection scheme never made any sense to me. How many years has it been since there has been any boot sector viri -- yet the damn thing has to be turned off much of the time.

        Tom's Hardware gave this one a thumbs up?

      • The REAL purpose of the BIOS should be: initialize the hardware up to a point so that it can boot the OS. This means memory initialization,
        some timer and interrupt related stuff and whatever code is required for the boot devices

        Can someone tell me why the bios needs to look at all 512+ meg of memory?

        Why does it play with the floppy drive or CD rom at all if its told to just boot C:? It should just do what it needs to do to load the OS. If that means waking up the disk controller, and reading in a few sectros without starting up the screen, great. I don't need the screen... I need the os loaded in the machine and I'm assuming it will reset up everything else again.

    • Script Kiddies (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pyrosophy ( 259529 )
      Yes, very bad, because you know if this happens one day you'll see:

      Click here to flash your bios. []

      And you can count the number of seconds on your right hand that will elapse before that link fries your motherboard.
      • Actually, on most any machine whose BIOS supports PXE booting (pretty much all of them, since it's an Intel/Microsoft standard) it's already possible to re-flash the BIOS remotely, among other equally invasive things.

        That's really what it was made for: PXE stands for Pre-boot eXecution Environment, remember???
    • For God sakes! A browser in the firmware? What for?!

      Look. DEC did this right years ago. If you don't know, find a crummy AlphaStation on EBay or something. They're next to free.

      You can put a serial cable in the back and when the 10+ year old computer notes the lack of a keyboard and/or video subsystem on boot (because its headless, like most significant computers) it will send a frigging prompt out the serial port. From there you can run basic diagnostics, dump a device list, pick a boot device, etc. You can bootstrap the machine from nothing to full installed and running OS without the use of a "local" keyboard or monitor. I don't think you even need to have a processor installed to get, at least, the prompt. It uses a small, inexpensive and independent CPU!

      Sun, HP, etc. I'm sure they all have similar.

      Over *here* I have a VA Linux A1000. I got this for cheap during VA's fire sale before they spaced the hardware biz. One of the last machines out the door from VA. What is this machine's solution to the bootstrapping puzzle? A proprietary connector on the back (where?!) attaches a proprietary little black box (poorly made and rather difficult to replace, I gather) that provides keyboard/mouse/VGA connectors. IT'S A 1U BOX! I'm supposed to leave this flimsy little device permanently attached to the machine in a rack? What crap!

      What I want is someone (say Phoenix, perhaps?) to create a BIOS for Intel/AMD based motherboards that provides all the basic features of traditional PC BIOS (minus that pointless energy saver thing) configuration through a serial port, with the option of allowing the OS to assume control of that same serial port and thus achieving complete, end-to-end, power-up to OS bootstrapping fully headless. I have no doubt that every cotton picking Intel/AMD motherboard with a built-in serial or USB connector is FULLY CAPABLE of doing this today. All it would take is a tiny bit of inspiration. Why on Earth has no commodity motherboard manufacture thought to do me this trivial thing? I'll pay extra. A LOT extra.

      Yeah, I know, buy "good" hardware, the Unix folks already do this. Yeah, I know, some weirdo vertical market board maker has just the thing hiding behind some link. My point is this; allowing a serial port, instead of keyboard+VGA, to perform BIOS config and bootstrapping is trivial to implement. There is no technical reason this should not exist on cheap, common peecee hardware.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:52PM (#5329988)
    Phoenix Technologies is hoping PC manufacturers will latch on to its newest software to help solve PC problems and improve data security.

    Phoenix, which creates BIOS software for many of the largest PC manufacturers, branched out this week with the new CME, or Core Managed Environment, software suite.

    Where the BIOS (basic input/output system) provides a bridge between a PC's operating system and its hardware, CME will create protected areas on a PC's hard drive that can host sensitive data or applications that alleviate common problems, allowing the computers to run even if the operating system is damaged, the company said.

    Phoenix, which will sell the software directly to PC makers for an undisclosed price, becomes the latest in a series of hardware and software makers trying to make PCs easier to use and more secure.

    Intel, Transmeta, Via Technologies and Microsoft have recently launched new security initiatives. IBM has also been offering special data recovery software and a security chip in its new PCs. Collectively, the companies are seeking to better protect sensitive data, owned by companies or individuals, against thieves.

    Although the security offers--including Intel's "LaGrande" technology, Transmeta's newest Crusoe processor and Via's Padlock--are built into chips or, in the case of Microsoft's Palladium project, into the operating system, Phoenix's CME will reside in a protected area on a PC's hard drive.

    CME applications are intended to protect and recover PC users' data and to help the PC itself repair damaged software or connect to the Internet to download updates, the company said in a statement.

    Phoenix will also offer versions of CME for embedded devices, such as industrial equipment, consumer electronics and servers.
  • by very ( 241808 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:52PM (#5329994) Homepage Journal
    Basic Input Output System

    If you can do more advance operation through "BIOS", then the "BIOS" is no longer BASIC.

    Therefore, it should no longer be called BIOS (Basic IOS)
    Call it Embedded Operating System (EmbOS).

    Just a thought!
    • by sulli ( 195030 )
      "Visual Basic Input Output System"
    • Maybe they should quit fooling around and have the sort of robust firmware that Sun has in their SparcStations. You can do a hell of a lot with a SparcStation at the bios prompt. I believe it includes a Forth engine. Correct me if I'm wrong.

      The BIOS on PeeCee motherboards has always been anaemic. And it's shocking how paranoid everyone in this discussion is about that changing.
    • Just because BIOS currently stands for "Basic Input/Output System," doesn't mean it can't be coopted for some new meaning.

      I'm glad to see PCs getting something similar to the tftp and other bootprom tools which good minicomputers had. Something that will let you build a machine from nothing, or fix or salvage data devices on a damaged system.

    • by (H)elix1 ( 231155 ) <> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @08:05PM (#5330742) Homepage Journal
      Therefore, it should no longer be called BIOS (Basic IOS)
      Call it Embedded Operating System (EmbOS).

      Or EmacsOS... It seems it can do most everything else, why not the BIOS too?
      • Emacs in BIOS? That's the most insightful idea I've heard today!

        Seriously, the biggest inconvinience of all BIOS' I saw is inability to extend them. But if BIOS will have Emacs as UI - no problems! Few brackets and you have new wonderful function.

        UI of Emacs is not overbloated (compared to GNOME/KDE), but still powerful enough. With a choice depending on available memory, it can be compiled with or without X11.

        However, which Emacs? GNU/Emacs is more compact and faster, but Xemacs has a great package management subsystem.

        Wait a minute. UI is good, but not everything. Who will be responsible fo hardware? Of course Linux. So, that will be sort of embedded Linux with Emacs as UI. Cool! I want PC with such BIOS!

    • In good BIOS "B" stands for "Big". That's right. Big Intelligent Operating System.
  • by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:52PM (#5329996)
    Now that computers aren't coming with floppy drives, there better be something that users can do crash recovery from if the machines won't boot from cd....

    Personally I'd like the choice of recovery cds/floppies.
    • BIOS support to boot from USB. Then you could use the USB pendrive as a floppy disk replacement.
    • Gigabyte's dual BIOS is quite nice. Especially so when they release an updated BIOS that crashes LILO.

      Basically, in the BIOS you can select to run the backup version, which, if you're smart, is a backup of the last known good BIOS.

      • They realy should have the backup version be non-flashable, preferably in a ROM. You'd want the backup BIOS to actually call the upgradable BIOS by defult. I've seen a machine hang during a BIOS update. It isn't pretty. There are also some viruses that attempt to overwrite the BIOS. It would be great to have an absolutely unbreakable BIOS. In the backup mode, you might have some bugs in obsure features and might lack the most modern features, but you most likely retain something that can boot at least a recovery floppy. More importantly, it'd be really hard to lose the ability to flash the flashable version of the BIOS.
  • by Bubble King ( 609519 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:53PM (#5330001)
    A bit like the offerngs here []?
  • It's something we've all wanted: a way to run your computer when the OS is hosed. Happened to me last night, actually. Booting off a floppy or CD-ROM is slow when you're in the tweak-reboot-tweak-reboot phase.

    Also, it would be great to be able to get those drivers and updates, or even HOWTO's while fixing the computer.

    Now, what I'd like to see added into this: The ability to instantly switch into the BIOS system. Then you could bring up a HOWTO, switch back and forth between your BIOS and struggling OS.
  • It won't boot up too fast if it's weighed down by too much stuff.

    Clearly, it should stick only to vital system functions (especially repair, perhaps online) and perhaps user functions (email, calendar, [help] browsing), and leave the rest to the real OS.
    • It's trying to be the WinXP of BIOSs... a BIOS, and a stripped-down version of every app or util that can be stuffed in sideways, all of which add potential to, um, "interact" in unpredictable ways.

      I've always disliked Phoenix BIOSs, way back well before they ate Award... buggy, weird limits, poor feature set, general lack of user options ... and they're doing nothing to improve my opinion.

      In fact when I motherboard-shop for a serious system, one of my primary criteria has become "Does it have an AMI BIOS?" If not, I move along.

  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@gm a i l . com> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:55PM (#5330043)
    As usual, this just seems to be a case of stuff origionally designed for big expensive systems coming down to lower levels. IBM servers tend to have this functionality, hell on our F50 at work you can dial in using a modem when the AIX OS isnt running, the bios/firmware will take care of you. The AlphaPC164 i was jsut given suprised me by having a almost full unixlike OS as its firmware (SRM).

    This has happened with SCSI, raid, SMP etc so it doesnt suprise me to find a BIOS that does more than normal, and in many cases it is a bonus, depending on wether it does certain things. I use serial consoles a lot, and would love to have a better way to talk to the computer at a really low level, without resorting to expensive hardware.
    • Precisely, previous posts on this subject lead me to believe Slashdotters have never heard of OpenFirmware or similar. OpenFirmware and OpenBoot are big reasons I stick with G4s and Sun Blades for home use.
    • The AlphaPC164 i was jsut given suprised me by having a almost full unixlike OS as its firmware (SRM).

      This is what I love about Sun hardware. You have a complete FORTH interpreter in the OpenBoot PROM, you can 'cd /' and 'ls' to get a list of devices, you can 'test net' or 'watch-net' to diagnose network issues, 'probe scsi' to find SCSI devices, etc. etc. A few months ago I wrote a little bit of FORTH which would make the chassis LED blink, so I could find a particular box in a rack full of kit. Marvellous. The lights-out managment features on the newer boxes allow you get to the PROM through the console line when the machine is switched off - well, enough of the PROM to let you power up the machine remotely - this was fantastic for one datacentre that I've worked in, you had to give security 24 hours notice if you needed entry to the facility.
  • hard disk? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Resides in a protected area of the harddisk".
    I think we all know what this means! Track 0 anyone? This could be interesting for TurboTax, and all the other horribly crippled applications forced on consumers nowadays.
  • file system access (Score:3, Interesting)

    by binaryDigit ( 557647 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:01PM (#5330122)
    Usually the two most critical items needed to help a problem system is file system access and then some basic editing tool. If this bios can come with

    1 - your choice of file system driver (ntfs, ufs, whateverfs)
    2 - a raw sector editor
    3 - a simple text file editor

    That would be a godsend. A tcp/ip stack with telnet/ftp would also be very useful, but I could live without that.
    • Maybe they'll get Microsoft to fully document NTFS!
    • Not very useful, I don't think.

      Most people who have the expertise needed to make meaningful changes to system config at the sector level (or even the /etc level) will already have another method of writing to the hard disk.

      The fix-it guy could slam the drive into a computer dedicated for that task, or insert a boot CD to take precedence over the hard disk. In either case, the repairer then has access to a full suite of personalized software and online documentation to help him do the repairs right. Much more powerful than anything the BIOS could provide.

  • floppy replacement (Score:3, Interesting)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:01PM (#5330123)
    I think this sure beats BIOS upgrades and OS installs via floppies--if they do it right. Imagine being able to just point the BIOS at an IP address in order to download the initial disk image via HTTP, or being able to use the BIOS to partition the disk and copy an initial disk image from a USB drive. Right now, trying to do the equivalent by, say, booting a Linux rescue disk can be hard--most Linux rescue disks still don't know how to deal with USB devices, and network boots are a pain to set up and don't (generally) work through firewalls or HTTP. This is particularly nice for lightweight portable devices that may not have much in the way of drives or interfaces, but they will have networking and possibly USB.

    If they do it wrong, however, it might be a nightmare of DRM, spyware, and commercial apps sitting in weird disk partitions. That, we definitely don't need. I don't want my machine reporting to Phoenix every time I boot, for example.

    I hope, however, that Phoenix will be cut out of the loop. Something like the Linux BIOS or OpenFirmware make a whole lot more sense to me as the basis for this.

  • This info might be rather outdated, considering I do not have any access to more then one modern BIOS. However, when are these things going to become a bit more standard? It seems like every BIOS is vastyl different from any other BIOS. I mean, if you take away the most logical stuff such a different vendors and motherboard capabilities, there are no real standards. Some BIOSes allow you to select where to boot from by giving you a limited set of capabilities designated by standard C:, D:, etcetera, while other BIOSes (even made by the same vendor) give you a much wider choise or even better, allow you to manually select a boot order using devices, not logical station name. (boot from Primary IDE, Master... Like that.) Even worse, some mobos I had didn't even allow slightly more exotic choices such as SCSI/IDE controllers, RAID (SCSI/IDE) controllers and network booting...

    I'd like the possibility of having more then three choices and to be able to delect from which device I boot, listed by IDE connection. Also, which is mighty handy, some sort of boot menu which can be called during boot, allowing you to select where to boot from. My current computer has it, if I want to boot from CD, I just have to select it... Very handy.

  • Alpha SRM console (Score:2, Informative)

    by bstadil ( 7110 )
    Old news, it is only the PC world that is taking another belated clue from the high end.

    This nifty thing [] has been available on the Alpha machines for 10 years or so.

    • Old news, it is only the PC world that is taking another belated clue from the high end.
      Are you allowed to say that kind of thing on /.? I thought that any hint that x86 wasn't the One True Architecture, and everything else was either obselete was heresy (well, I've been flamed / modded down every time I've suggested such a thing).
      • Heh, i dont know about others on slashdot, but recently ive found myself coming to the limits of what is "fun" with the x86 arch, and have been looking for other architectures to play with. Thats the reason i currently have 2 RS/600s, a Alpha, numberous suns, SGI systems etc etc. Its fun to see jsut how different systems are. I have a apple airport coming, and am going to have a bash sticking linux on it [].
  • In other news, Microsoft today announced the availability of Bios XP Service Pack 3, available as a 900MB download from or on two handy CD's for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling.
  • by linuxghoul ( 16059 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:21PM (#5330324) Journal
    When i am doing a fresh install of WIN2K and REDHAT on my comps (a once-in-6-months exercise) i make sure the machine is not even physically hooked up to the net untill i have a software firewall configured, up and running. I keep the firewall packages on CDs, along with config files, and ONLY AFTER these are setup, i go online to install other things, update drivers, etc (usually, only for win2k, not for redhat, which is trivial to bring back to my customized setup)...

    having TCP/IP built into the bios, with no firewalling support, and no possibility of frequent/safe upating, no easy way to check for "being" owned is a very bad idea. Also, Phoenix being a popular bios manufacturer, there will be a lot of worms targetting this bios tcp/ip stack.

    I dont see a single genuine advantage of having all this crap in the BIOS anyway. I mean, if u hose ur drive, and need to go online for some critical information/software before u can bring ur comp back up, just keep a KNOPPIX [] cd handy. I personally think BIOS shud be thinning down even further, given none of the modern OSes really use most of the services, and the BIOS mostly just gets in their way. All the bios shud be capable of, is to bring up the OS, and then let the OS configure everything. It wud be so neat to have the OS kernel setup all the hardware, the powersaving policies, everything when it starts up. Of course, the best is to just have the OS kernel [] as the bios!! just throw this anachronism completely out. (yeah for ppl whos fav os is not linux, sumthing else might need to be worked out ;) ...

    • by tunah ( 530328 )
      When i am doing a fresh install of WIN2K and REDHAT on my comps (a once-in-6-months exercise) i make sure the machine is not even physically hooked up to the net untill i have a software firewall configured, up and running.

      having TCP/IP built into the bios, ... is a very bad idea

      Well, if you're "not even physically hooked up" while installing, then how exactly is someone meant to break in when you're fiddling with the bios? Not to mention that a software firewall is neccesary (excepting trojans, which won't install on the bios) if you have open ports, which the bios won't, or if there is a problem with the tcp/ip stack, which a software firewall won't help with.

      BTW, why are you reinstalling OSes every 6 months? Windows 2000 is a lot better at not getting gummed up like 9x used to be, but perhaps you might want to reinstall anyway, but redhat? You DO know that you don't have to reinstall both at once, don't you?

  • by EggMan2000 ( 308859 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:21PM (#5330326) Homepage Journal
    HP/Compaq Servers and SUN have some similar things on their servers now. Although no web browser, and not technically BIOS. The Remote Insight Lights-out (RILo)boards provide great disaster recovery tools. Compaq [] An oldie but goodie is SUN Solaris PROM. Much more useful than BIOS.

    I know people clammor for the good ole days of BIOS and CMOS, but now we just need to accept that these new products are going to be better.
  • Personally, I'm happy enough just using a bootable disk to fix WinXP (yeah, I know), if it gets hosed. It actually doesn't happen very often anyway. But if for some reason the OS was hosed and using bootable media wasn't an option (perhaps security concerns, for example), how would this be better than just have LILO and a dedicated "repair" partition with linux and a bunch of repair tools on it? This way, as another poster commented, you aren't introducing unneccesary complexity into BIOS. and in fact, this seems very similar to what Phoenix is doing - the ZDNET article mentioned that the bios would have special hard drive partitions with recovery apps at it's disposal. So it seems like the only thing we're doing here is giving BIOS the ability to operate apps on a recovery partition directly, instead of using LILO+linux. Unless your boot record is screwed as well, what's the advantage to this? And if your hard drive is that trashed, doesn't it make more sense to stick the drive in a machine that also has a working HD, copy what you can, and reformat? For that matter, if your hard drive is getting pooched so often that you NEED dedicated bios support, then you should replace it. At least,that's my opinion. IAACTAAHBMMIPS (I Am A Computer Technician As A Hobby But My Major Is Political Science)
  • IEEE 1275 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pretoris ( 442079 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:24PM (#5330373)
    I've always wondered why IEEE 1275 / OpenBIOS / OpenFirmware [] never caught on. IMO it is a much better and much more powerful alternative to the closed and aging BIOS found in most PC's. People are always complaining about "Closed" operating systems but don't bat an eye that their BIOS is closed...
    • People are always complaining about "Closed" operating systems but don't bat an eye that their BIOS is closed...

      Probably because their favorite OSes don't use the BIOS at all after booting... and don't get rebooted often.

      And if your BIOS is still too closed for your tastes, there's always the LinuxBIOS [] project.
    • (As I posted elsewhere...)

      See, the PC plaform was evolved, not designed. And, as such, backwards compatibility is simulatenously the most important aspect of the platform, and also the most difficult to sustain, with kludge upon kludge being bolted on just so DOS 3.3 will still boot on the latest and greatest 3GHz P4.

      I'd love to see someone like Dell make a PC with Open Firmware instead of the standard BIOS. Trouble is, it'd need to have special OS distributions just so they could boot on the platform.

      Then, of course, you'd have to deal with the Luddites. The same people who complain very loudly whenever anyone talks about removing old, worthless-to-most-people legacy crap (like floppy disks, PS/2 ports, serial ports, parallel ports, ISA slots, etc etc) that has been completely replaced by better things and is only really needed so - you guessed it - DOS will still boot on their 3GHz P4. Judging by the reaction here to the previous article about Dell starting to not include the floppy by default (amongst others), I'd imagine the average /. poster will be jumping up and down and screaming about potentially losing that ability.

  • by user32.ExitWindowsEx ( 250475 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:25PM (#5330385)
    Could this be the first version of a 'Auto-Updater' for future Palladium-enabled BIOSes?
  • by DJStealth ( 103231 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:35PM (#5330496)
    What if they called it an OS on a chip?

    Make it separate from the BIOS; but possibly on the same EEPROM chip; it will only load up if you hold down the F12 button (or something) when you boot.
    • Make it separate from the BIOS; but possibly on the same EEPROM chip...

      It's been done. Some Tandy 1000-series PCs (like the 1000SL and the 1000RL) had DOS and DeskMate in ROM, and the BIOS would boot into that if it couldn't find a disk to boot from (or/also if the user pressed a particular key, IIRC). It appeared to DOS as an extra disk, usually D:. This extra disk, besides containing IBMBIO.COM, IBMDOS.COM, COMMAND.COM, and a few core DeskMate files, also contained basic DOS utilities like FDISK, FORMAT, and CHKDSK, in case the user needed them to fix up a borked disk.

  • After the BIOS hands the control of the
    machine to the OS, to what extent is the
    BIOS used, if at all? I mean, userspace
    code cannot circumvent the OS -- if it tries,
    the process gets killed by the OS. AFAIK, there
    is no such a relation between the OS and the BIOS:
    if the OS tries to circumvent the BIOS and talk
    directly to some device, it does not get killed.

    So, the BIOS is not a layer below the OS,
    right? I am talking about real OS's, not DOS
    or 'doze 95.
  • The only reason to get a KVM these days is to be able to fiddle with the BIOS. After the OS has been loaded, I can connect to it over the network easily anyway. Serial port BIOSes are one solution, but they still require a network-to-serial-port interface, as well as a serial port.

    So, are there any BIOSes that can be accessed via HTTP or TELNET? That's perhaps more important to me than more local functionality.

  • by kwoo ( 641864 ) <> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @08:26PM (#5330888) Homepage Journal

    Actually, newer Macs use OpenFirmware. I have it on both of my Macs, and they're both over two years old.

    For a little bit of fun, hold down CMD+OPT+O+F at the boot chime. This will put you into the PROM, which is scriptable in Forth.

    Given that board test and driver suites are written in OF, I don't see any reason at all why a web browser would be difficult. Text-only, perhaps -- but not terribly difficult.

    There is also a project I noticed one day on Freshmeat that I think was called Retro Native Forth, for the IA32 arch. I wonder if that could be molded into an OF-like role on that platform?

    • For a little bit of fun, hold down CMD+OPT+O+F at the boot chime. This will put you into the PROM, which is scriptable in Forth.

      As I recall, isn't the FreeBSD bootloader scriptable in FORTH? Is OpenFirmware a completely separate development from the FreeBSD bootloader, or is Forth just particularly well-suited to that time of application?
      • or is Forth just particularly well-suited to that time of application?

        I have no special knowledge of the FreeBSD bootloader. However, Forth was actually originally designed as part of a "system-on-a-chip" CAD system. Forth bytecode is extrememly compact, the VM is very light, and the language itself greatly encourages code reuse. (I forget the statistics, but Forth programs on average are very much characterized by many short functions that get used over and over.) Forth doesn't ncessarily lend itself to fast native binaries on modern superscalar CPUs, but the BIOS needs to wait for the HD to spin up anyway. A 200% faster language for the BIOS won't cut your boot time by 66%. In summary, Forth is simple and compact and designed for embedded applications. This is why it finds its way into bootloaders/firmware.

    • OpenBIOS [] is working on an OpenFirmware-compliant firmware for PCs and other platforms that don't already have such firmware (Alpha, x86-64, and IA-64, according to their page).

  • Not new (Score:3, Informative)

    by acceleriter ( 231439 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @08:31PM (#5330925)
    Phoenix has been working on a spyware [] web-enabled BIOS for years. Now they've just moved the network stack into EPROM, it seems.

    It'll be a cold day in hell that I run any machine capable of connecting to the net without my telling it to explicitly.

  • "Resides in a protected area of the harddisk".

    Did anyone else just have flashbacks to the whole TurboTax thing that wrote to 'protected areas of the hard drive'? This technology sounds cool, but I'm a bit concerned: it almost sounds like the beginnings of BIOS-level DRM (digital rights management), sugar-coated with some seemingly-good features.

    It has cool potential, but at the same time, scares me somewhat at what it could theoretically be used for.

  • by olethrosdc ( 584207 ) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @06:40AM (#5333636) Homepage Journal
    I am sorry, but this is absolutely true. The BIOS only exists as a concept on the PC. I like to give the Amiga OS as an example in this case.
    (It was a single-user Multitasking, 32-bit OS, in late 80s to mid-90s. Last significant version was 3.1 in 1992 iirc, though 3.9 was released in 2001).

    Let's take my A1200. What did it consist of? Well, it had the CPU, a custom chipset on the mainboard with DMA-accessible 2MB of RAM and an expansion slot. As you will see, there was hardware support for some things and then everything else was part of the OS:

    Hardware-wise a number of protocols were supported, most importantly the mouse and AutoConfig. The mouse was simple. But AutoConfig was the plug'n'play of the 80s. (Introduced with Amiga3000 I think). It scanned the expansion bus (Think PCI bus). No, I should not say scan. It makes everything seem like windows scanning for hardware. It just sent a couple of signals on the bus and any devices that were there responded to acknowledge their presence, then the AutoConfig would ask them some stuff, like, if they had any ROM.

    Now, what was interesting was that the A1200 itself had a (512k?) ROM, which contained basically the Kickstart and a large part of the OS (the kernel, disk operations and basic windowing system). The main part of the kickstart was the bootloader. Now, I don't see anything related to BIOS here. The sequence was basically


    Another interesting thing that hapenned around the same time that the kernel was loaded was what happenned to the ROMs that other devices that were connected on the bus declared. For example, my A1200 had a SCSI card addeed. The drivers for the OS were actually on a ROM on the SCSI card. When AutoConfig asked the card, it said it had a ROM. The same type of rom filesystem was used for the SCSI ROM and the Motherboard ROM. So, basically the ROM was looked at via the ROM filesystem and any libraries in there (the driver was just a shared library and shared device) were added to the system. Very simple.

    So, I dunno if you would call AutoConfig a BIOS in itself. Or if you would call the ROM FileSystem part of a BIOS. In any case, the FileSystem concept was part of the OS, which used it to access all kinds of devices. The AutoConfig was an extremely simple protocol that could be done with a minimal amount of hardware. I think the specs are less than 20 pages in the Amiga Hardware Manual.

    Anyway, all I see here is the hardware, some *standard protocols* that were implemented on the hardware itself, the bootloader and then the operating system itself.

    BTW, Linux systems just ignore the BIOS completely, don't they?
  • It's been done (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <> on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @07:57AM (#5333840) Homepage
    In PC and server environments, Phoenix cME enables the creation and management of a secure "host protected area" (HPA) of the hard drive, where applications reside. The first of these are Phoenix's own FirstWave apps, which help diagnose and recover PCs if the OS goes tits-up, third party developers can write their own aps for storage in this "tamper-proof"(actually tamper-resistant) area.
    This sounds very much like the 'reference partition' used with second-generation (1991-1995) PS/2s. The older models had a 'reference diskette'... but it's too much to ask nowadays that manufacturers could write a diagnostic program to fit in a mere 1440 kilobytes.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.