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Bye-Bye to BIOS?

Traditional BIOS -- the firmware that's used to cold-start a PC before the operating system kicks in -- could go the way of the 5-1/4-inch floppy, if Phoenix Technologies has its way.

As part of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) taking place in San Francisco this week, the company is touting its strategic plan, unveiled last September, to replace BIOS with next-generation firmware it's calling the "core systems software," or CSS.

Using some of its software-development heft, Phoenix is hoping to speed CSS into the mainstream via a new tool, called Phoenix Core Architect, which it is unveiling today at IDF. CoreArchitect will enable OEM systems developers to put together CSS modules which they can use to control their servers or desktops.

Phoenix is also hoping CSS will help it to expand its market presence beyond PCs, where it has a major presence as a BIOS provider, and into newer smart devices such as handhelds.

CSS itself is positioned as a technology which will "evolve firmware functionality beyond the capabilities of the traditional PC BIOS" to support stronger levels of device and network security, according to Phoenix vice president of marketing Michael Goldgof.

"The PC industry is driving to meet the demand for device security by designing new 'trusted computing' technologies into standard x86 platforms," the company said in a statement.

In addition to security, Phoenix is touting a laundry list of additional functions supported by CSS, mainly aimed at enhancing systems manageability.

CSS itself is built up from what Phoenix called its Device-Networked Architecture (d-NA), a structured framework and set of interoperable software building blocks, which support the various trusted computing, manageability, and connectivity functions delivered by BIOS replacement technology. Phoenix's architecture is further buttressed by software components that tie in tightly to both .NET and to Microsoft's "CryptoAPI", its security application-programming interface .

When Phoenix first disclosed CSS last fall, it hoped to promulgate CSS via a link up with Microsoft, under which the two would work to tie CSS into Microsoft's Windows Preinstallation Environment tool, or WinPE. Win PE is a tool based on the Windows XP Professional operating system, which allows IT staff to build custom setup scripts that can automatically monitor and update the desktops in a corporate environment.

At that time, Tom Phillips, Microsoft's general manager of Windows hardware, characterized CSS as "an entirely new category of system software."

The Phoenix CoreArchitect being unveiled at IDF is tightly integrated with Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET 2003 integrated software-development tool. It's got code-stepping and bus monitoring tools intended to help old-line BIOS developers roll the newer CSS software.

CoreArchitect is further positioned as being able to help developers integrate network standards such as XML , HTML, and TCP/IP into their systems.