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Intel to Open BIOS Code Project

After more than 20-years, PCs have seen a revamp or upgrade of just about every single process save one: the BIOS layer.

The little-seen and barely-understood "firmware" that runs between the hardware and the operating system is too out of date to handle the next generation of software applications and services, according to an initiative announced Tuesday by Intel .

As part of its Platform Innovation Framework for EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface), the chipmaking giant has been tackling the problem and is preparing to open source its Foundation code via under the Common Public License (CPL) later this year. The code is for firmware drivers written in the C programming language so they can support silicon from multiple vendors. Under the CPL, any change in the Foundation code itself and the development kit made by one company will be visible and available to all.

With help from CollabNet, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel said its successor to the BIOS (based on a project code-named "Tiano,") will be based on up-to-date software technology. The chipmaking giant said the changes are necessary to handle updated management tools, service runtimes and administrative interfaces. Such work would be far too complex to perform in the old BIOS environment such as enabling address space for OptionROMs in servers; remote firmware management; enabling headless servers without extra hardware; blade and cluster provisioning without having to press "F1" for setup; problem isolation between boards, disk and operating system; and changing the configuration for a PC before the OS boot.

"Because pre-boot firmware is a vital ingredient in all modern platforms, silicon vendors and system manufacturers require stability in the Foundation code to protect their investment in innovation," Will Swope, Intel vice president and general manager of the Software and Solutions Group said in a statement. "They expect unfettered access and collaborative control of changes so that interoperability can be maintained."

Intel's collaboration is supported by other attempts at streamlining the pre-boot processes. Phoenix Technology expanded its Core System Software (CSS) from PCs and servers as well as embedded devices like PDAs and point-of-sale (POS) terminals. Intel said complete next-generation firmware products based on this technology are also available from BIOS vendors like American Megatrends and Insyde Software.

The idea has even garnered support from Microsoft , which previously balked at the concept of Intel's EFI. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant only began heralding the changes to the BIOS layer after Intel said it would form a special interest group.

"Microsoft is continuing its commitment to open industry standards by adding EFI boot support to all versions of the Longhorn generation of Windows products," Tony Pierce, Technical Evangelist, Windows Hardware Innovation Group at Microsoft said in a statement.

Intel said it is already working with Gateway to have the computer maker include the EFI in its PCs and other devices. EFI is supported by the most popular 64-bit OS implementations and platforms, and is an emerging interface for 32-bit operating systems. The project represents years of development by Intel's China Software Center in Shanghai, and Intel software labs in Oregon and Washington.

Going forward, Intel said it expects other OEMs to do a SKU this year and should have a its own reference boards on the framework in the next two to three years. The company said it predicts the EFI to be the primary means of BIOS silicon enabling by 2007.