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Phoenix BIOSOS?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the which-layer-does-what dept.

Operating Systems 394

jhfry writes "In an interesting development by an unexpected source, Phoenix Technologies is releasing a Linux-based, virtualization-enabled, BIOS-based OS for computers. They implemented a full Linux distro right on the BIOS chips, and by using integrated virtualization technology, it 'allows PCs and laptops to hot-switch between the main operating system, such as Windows, and the HyperSpace environment.' So, essentially, they are 'trying to create a new market using the ideas of a fast-booting, safe platform that people can work in, but remain outside of Windows.'"

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394 comments

If it works . . . (0, Offtopic)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959427)

It works.

And if it works, it might be a good thing.

The Achilles heel of this... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959647)

It's the driver problem. I can't get printers, scanners, etc. to work with linux in a consistent manner. I think such issues will shoot this down.

Re:The Achilles heel of this... (5, Interesting)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959891)

Or this will shoot such issues down.

Re:The Achilles heel of this... (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959973)

I'll forgive your lack of experience on this matter but I have to answer your implication that driver absence is a Linux problem.

There is a problem with manufacturers who decide to keep their hardware specs secret and so make it difficult to have device driver support under Linux. It is true. It is a lot less common, but still true.

But this is not a problem that is exclusive to Linux. There are many devices that are older and will never have support for WindowsXP or Vista or Windows 7. The devices are considered old and outdated by these same manufacturers and do not want people using them any longer and so they don't pay to have people write drivers for more current versions of Windows. It happens. This problem also happens with Mac OS X. Recently, I upgraded my wife's machine to OS X 10.5.x and her Canon scanner does not and will not have drivers for 10.5.x even though 10.4.x and prior are still supported. All I could get were weak apologies from support but there is no intention to change from their position. They recommended that I buy some software from a 3rd party that costs twice what the scanner costs today in stores. (It is pretty weak that they actually display the MacOSX compatible logo on the package and it is no longer completely true...)

My point is that when drivers are not open sourced and/or the hardware specs are not openly available, your hardware is limited by the willingness of the hardware maker to support it. This is true of Windows, Mac OSX and Linux alike. This is NOT a Linux problem. It is a Manufacturer-with-their-heads-up-their-asses problem.

Re:The Achilles heel of this... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960211)

I have a mac and my peripherals all work great.

Re:The Achilles heel of this... (2, Insightful)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960229)

We call that an IO error (Idiot Operator). Seriously.

Re:The Achilles heel of this... (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960359)

So pass the raw devices through to the OS.

Re:If it works . . . (5, Interesting)

Tacvek (948259) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959783)

Hyperspace is an extremely fast booting (approx 4 seconds) Linux based mini OS. It is available in two flavors. On PCs without the Intel's VT extensions it is just a fast booting OS, but you can only dual boot it.

On PC's with VT, the bios loads a hypervisor which then boots both Hyperspace, and windows. (It may defer starting windows until hyperspace has loaded). The result is that within for seconds you can begin using the computer, doing things like browsing the web while windows. Once Windows is up, users can instantly switch back and forth.

In theory there should be little reason why other OS could not be used instead of windows, although the system may be installing special drivers in windows to help mitigate some issues.

Re:If it works . . . (4, Interesting)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959909)

What about updating the kernel or compiling in new drivers? Do you have to flash the BIOS every time? Risky.

Re:If it works . . . (0, Flamebait)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960247)

Please don't ask sincere questions and pass them off as rhetorical. Learn about Hypervisors, then post. Stop sounding stupid.

Re:If it works . . . (5, Funny)

beav007 (746004) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960429)

Stop sounding stupid.

I've tried this with people before, and it never works. Never fear - I have a plan!

sudo Stop sounding stupid.

Re:If it works . . . (2, Interesting)

physburn (1095481) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959795)

Sure its a good thing. Thats the environment i'll boot into to fix the boot block of windows or linux, whenever they become unbootable. Hope it has room, for fsck, mkfs, a partitioner and most of the common filesystem types.

...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (2, Funny)

reporter (666905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959855)

This idea of putting Linux itself into the BIOS is okay if and only if the chip containing the BIOS is replaceable. In other words, the chip should not be soldered to the board.

Linux is significantly more complex than a normal BIOS and surely contains bugs. Patches will be needed on a regular basis, and the BIOS chip will need to be replaced several times per year.

Still, this ability to switch rapidly between operating systems may obsolete the need for a virtual Windows XP within Windows 7. Just install Windows 7 in parallel with Windows XP and let the BIOS switch back and forth as often as you need to do so.

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (4, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959893)

This idea of putting Linux itself into the BIOS is okay if and only if the chip containing the BIOS is replaceable. In other words, the chip should not be soldered to the board.

You're joking, right? Right????

Because if not, read this [wikipedia.org] then flagellate yourself 20 times with an RS232 cable.

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (4, Insightful)

Inner_Child (946194) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959903)

Yes, because no one would ever think to update by flashing. Why would it have to be replaced, again?

Flash memory has a limited number of writes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959965)

Flash memory has a limited number of writes.

Re:Flash memory has a limited number of writes. (3, Informative)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960135)

Even the absolute worst flash memory can be written hundreds of times without any issues.

At a reasonable update schedule of once a month, that would be no less than 10 years. You would almoste certainly be able to update once a week for 3-4 years. And this is worst case...I would be surprised if you would really even want to use the computer anymore (due to performance issues) by the time the flash wore out 15-20 years down the road.

Re:Flash memory has a limited number of writes. (1)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960167)

Flash memory has a limited number of writes.

The universe has a limited number of atoms.

Re:Flash memory has a limited number of writes. (5, Insightful)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960347)

"The universe has a limited number of atoms."

... but an unlimited number of morons !!!

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960179)

Why would it have to be replaced, again?

Power loss while flashing, for one.

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (1)

VisualD (1144679) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959911)

You dont think it'll be possible to, you know, flash the bios?

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (5, Funny)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960161)

Not without getting arrested, this is a PC world, ya know.

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959915)

Patches will be needed on a regular basis, and the BIOS chip will need to be replaced several times per year.

Or you could just, I dunno... flash it?

Re:...only if the BIOS chip is replaceable. (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960327)

"Linux is significantly more complex than a normal BIOS and surely contains bugs.

Res ipsa loquitur [wikipedia.org]

First post (0, Troll)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959443)

first post, nothing useful to say but. Cool!

Re:First post (-1, Troll)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959455)

d*mn, never mind... Still cool though...

Re:First post (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959459)

Fail. On several levels.

Re:First post (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959679)

This is why you first post as anon.

Hrm (5, Insightful)

CSFFlame (761318) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959463)

The Geek in me says: "awesome" The Hacker in me says: "jackpot"

Re:Hrm (5, Interesting)

umeboshi (196301) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959535)

The Paranoid Conspiracist in me says: "This is an essential step for the trusted computing platform, where a government or corporate owned rootkit could exist on your computer, with little to no ability to be replaced or removed by the owner of the machine."

Re:Hrm (3, Informative)

Wingman 5 (551897) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959833)

There is so much FUD about Trusted computting. Go watch Security Now Ep. 99 [grc.com] It will change how you think about trusted computing. It will separate the truth from the FUD.

Re:Hrm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959929)

The thing about so called "Trusted Computing" is that in practise, the owner of the "trusted" computer (the customers that buy the computer) do not have control over their computer. In practise, it is a company (probably a very weathly multinational company) that holds the control.

Re:Hrm (4, Insightful)

Mr2001 (90979) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960049)

He basically makes the argument that TPM is a dual-use technology: it can be used for good or evil. Problem is, the evil uses could easily be disabled without impairing the good uses... but that hasn't happened.

"Remote attestation" is for DRM, plain and simple. It's evil. There is no reason I'd want my computer to produce a report of what software I'm running without giving me the ability to change that report before it's sent out. That feature is useless for me as a user; it's only useful to third parties that want to restrict the software I'm allowed to run (e.g. by refusing to send me a video stream unless they know I'm using their preferred player).

If they removed remote attestation from the TPM spec, or simply put a switch on the side of the computer so the owner could forge attestations whenever he felt like it, it wouldn't be evil. So the question is, if Trusted Computing is such a boon for users, why does it still have features that only serve to undermine those very users?

Re:Hrm (4, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960281)

> So the question is, if Trusted Computing is such a boon for users, why
> does it still have features that only serve to undermine those very users?

Or you might consider a slightly bigger world than your basement and uses for computers besides downloading porn and playing WoW. Remote attestation might not be something you care for, but if you were designing an ATM system you might feel differently about the ability to know, with a pretty high confidence, that the remote terminals are uncorrupted.

You are stuck on the idea that it is YOUR computer and that will always be so, that the person in front of the display owns the machine. But that just isn't true in a great many scenarios. I'd really like a system that allowed me to know if one of the workstations around here had been compromised. All of our machines are 'mine' in the sense I'm the one responsible for them, the employees sitting in front of em just use em.

Even remote attestation can be used for either good or evil. The key is to resist when big media tries to use it for evil. And it's evil because the machines aren't TimeWarner's yet they want to assert ownership over them just because they are displaying their precious IP.

Re:Hrm (2, Informative)

umeboshi (196301) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960305)

Thanks for point that out. :)

I'm still listening to that darned episode, but they've only been babbling about ssl certificates and other items in their listeners mailbag.

My point was that the os in bios was an essential component, as the tpm is also. I never tried to say that tpm == trusted computing, rather that it is just a component of it. Hardware virtualization is also an essential component (it's also dual use, and I run virtual machines very frequently). A builtin hypervisor (or rootkit, depending on who's controlling it) is able to restrict access to the tpm, allowing only "trusted entities" to configure it. If you own the machine, but don't have full access and control of the hypervisor, this is bad. If you don't own the machine, and don't have that access and control, this is good.

Re:Hrm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960435)

If you managed a network filled with whatever crap stems from users clicking on the dancing monkey in the web page, you might have a different perspective on the value of attestation. Knowing what's running on a PC isn't just about DRM. Being able to quarantine end-nodes based on failure to attest to running known-good images would be useful.

Re:Hrm (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960361)

Thank you for self-imploding ;-)

Re:Hrm (5, Interesting)

Wingman 5 (551897) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959673)

In the fourth case, the core security software grabs input and output from the network and disk to check the data for security threats. In that case, "you won't even really know you are using hyperspace," Hobbs says.

Talk about the setup for the rootkit from hell.

Re:Hrm (1)

bit01 (644603) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959895)

Talk about the setup for the rootkit from hell.

BIOS flash memory is simply mass storage that, just like the hard disk, retains its contents when switched off.

They didn't talk about it in the article but I'd be surprised if there wasn't some way to recover if it gets corrupted, either deliberately (virus), or accidentally (buggy software). Maybe protected memory that does initial boot or provides a re-flashing mechanism.

If there's no such hardware protected method for recovery then yes, root kit hell.

---

Don't be a programmer-bureaucrat; someone who substitutes marketing buzzwords and software bloat for verifiable improvements.

GPS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959485)

And the EU GPS system and the Russian GPS system will not work because......

Re:GPS (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959513)

Wow. Epic fail.

Wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959539)

Isn't the plural bii or bioxen?

Re:Wait (5, Funny)

russlar (1122455) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959601)

Bioii

yesterdays news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959561)

Take away the hot switching and its the same thing ASUS has been doing for over a year now on their mobos.

American tech, lol, just take something and slap a clock on it.

Re:yesterdays news (3, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959677)

But if you look at the back of the clock, it always says "MADE IN CHINA."

Hardware (0, Redundant)

kensai (139597) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959575)

I wonder how this virtualized BIOS will handle native hardware access when multiple "native" OSes try access it at the same time.

Re:Hardware (4, Informative)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959923)

Virtually? It's called a hypervisor. How do you think any VM works?

Re:Hardware (1)

DrPeper (249585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960121)

Actually VM's didn't start off with Hypervisors, it is a relatively new addition to the tech.

Re:Hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960355)

Actually VM's didn't start off with Hypervisors, it is a relatively new addition to the tech.

Dunno about you, but the late 1960s [wikipedia.org] doesn't seem all that new too me.

Re:Hardware (0, Redundant)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960393)

There is no time

SplashTop (3, Interesting)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959579)

So is this fundamentally different from Asus putting SplashTop on some of their netbooks and motherboards?

Re:SplashTop (3, Informative)

DrPeper (249585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959707)

Well the two are similar. It sounds like HyperSpace has some catching up to do with Splashtop...

" and in June, the company plans a major update, which will add e-mail capabilities and instant messaging."

Which Splashtop already has.

Both are instant on (or at least more instant on than Window$ is currently, but M$ is working on that) OS's. With boot times in the under 5 seconds range.

But HyperSpace is a bit ahead of the game with the inclusion of a Hypervisor. So SplashTop will need to scramble to include one before June. Otherwise HyperSpace will essentially be SplashTop (which made it to market first) on Steroids. Which should make it much more appealing to geeks and non-geeks alike.

If I understand it correctly HyperSpace would have the added nicety of being able to switch somewhat instantaneously between two OS's. I don't remember reading anything on the Splashtop site that it was able to do that.

Re:SplashTop (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959949)

While I under$tand your di$like of Micro$oft, you $ound like a dumba$$ when you replace s with $.

Re:SplashTop (5, Interesting)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959723)

> So is this fundamentally different from Asus putting SplashTop on some of their netbooks and motherboards?

Very different. What Phoenix is doing is pushing Windows into a VM, permanently. The machine boots Linux from the BIOS and loads Windows into a VM container in the background while you have a basic Linux desktop to browse the web, read email, etc. You can flip between Windows and Linux with a hotkey. But Windows stays in the VM. This offers a hope of eventually containing the menace from Redmond. The question is whether Phoenix will want to go there.

Imagine a real firewall dropped between the virtual NIC in Windows and the real one. Even better, just forget the network in Windows for most uses, use the Firefox on the 'other' more safe system that is a hotkey away. Push this tech a bit more and have seamless Windows(tm) windows running rootless on the X side. Now we don't even need to worry about two different displays. Basically, this tech offers the potential to blur the line between Windows and a real Internet ready system in ways impossible to predict. This could erase enough of Windows' defects to keep it viable or it could remove enough of the reasons to run Windows it hurts it. But Pandora's box is open and it will be interesting.

Also nice to (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960045)

switch between Linux (a full featured distro), Windows, and OS X, but with minimal (almost no) speed penalty, if I'm reading this correctly.

Re:SplashTop (1)

vesuvana (1166821) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960139)

It's a solution without a problem. They tried similar tacts on the Mac twice, the latest being Parallels (god save us from Bootcamp) and VMware still has no real user base, especially given knoppix and linux live. It just seems like a non-issue. Corporations won't support it and individuals will make the decision to run one OS or the other based on how much they hate microstiff or the apps they have to run.

Re:SplashTop (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960441)

"It's WaS a solution without a problem. "

There. I fixed that for you.

Re:SplashTop (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960163)

What Phoenix is doing is pushing Windows into a VM, permanently.

Depending on what you mean by "permanently", you can do this now: run Windows from a VM under an ordinary Linux distro. The only difference here is that Linux is running out of the BIOS ROM.

What's the point of running Linux this way? Besides making it harder to update.

Re:SplashTop (2, Informative)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960459)

> What's the point of running Linux this way?

You are asking the wrong question. Try "What is the point of running Windows this way?" Phoenix isn't trying to push "The Year of Linux on the Desktop" here.

> you can do this now: run Windows from a VM under an ordinary Linux distro.

In theory at least. What they hope is different is that is Phoenix doing it. They think they have the power to establish a standard here. If they succeed in pushing Windows on a large percentage of desktops into a secure sandbox it changes the game. You or me running Windows in VMWare doesn't.

For them to pull it off they are going to have to provide a seamless experience. That means no noticable performance hit, full DX10 support by somehow virtualizing the video such that whichever OS is visible gets almost full hardware access, yet can somehow be flipped to a virtual device when the other OS gets activated. WHen an average user flips to Windows they can't realize it is a VM. All of their games, video stuff, USB devices, etc. have to work normally. I'm guessing a buttload of custom Windows drivers are going to be needed. And I'd also guess you won't be able to put any ol video card in and have it work, especially the first year or two.

Re:SplashTop (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960201)

Once Windows is virtualized, it loses nearly all the security gripes I have against it. When you don't need to run antivirus on it, or any of the security updates, it boots and runs quickly. Here's how I imgaine it:
All user docs are kept outside the VM.
The VM is destroyed and replaced periodically with a standard image (every day, every hour, or at the whim of the user).

Wow! They invented CoreBoot/LinuxBIOS (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959585)

Imagine that, a mere 10 years after LinuxBIOS (now CoreBoot) first provided a full linux version on the BIOS (with near-instant booting into the OS of your choice), Phoenix gives us with this remarkable invention (complete with the standard idiotic fawning by Rob Enderle).

Re:Coreboot can't run both at the same time (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960103)

Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think Coreboot supports using the onboard Linux OS even after you boot Windows or another OS while this does.

Boot time? (5, Insightful)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959613)

Lately BIOS has become the slowest process of booting.

I hope they won't increase bloat inside BIOS.

Re:Boot time? (0)

Mojo66 (1131579) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959791)

It seems that those powers that prevent Linux being delivered pre-installed on disk, have forgotten to put their hand-cuffs on the BIOS. If it needs bloated BIOSES to finally bring Linux to the desktop, that would be OK with me.

Cue jokes about chairs in 3..2..1.... (2, Funny)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959661)

Cue jokes about chairs in 3..2..1....

Re:Cue jokes about chairs in 3..2..1.... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959735)

What jokes?

How is this different... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959691)

How's this different from the Built In Operating System on my motorcycle?

-Hiro P

The real issue = what does Steve Balmer think (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959713)

I think it is a pointless idea unless Phoenix Tech is hoping Steve Balmer shows up at their door soon with garbage bags stuffed with cash.

I still don't understand why not flash? (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959721)

If you got a web browser in your BIOS you will probably want to update it one day. Like, when there is a critical security fix to prevent site A from grabbing your private data from site B - something that will not be addressed by not mounting your hard drive. A flash drive, with a physically adjustable write-protect knob, would do nicely. Else you would just have to stop using this feature after a couple of years or the first hardware upgrade and set up your own dual boot.

Re:I still don't understand why not flash? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959789)

Most of the BIOS is usually flashable. Hence "BIOS updates".

built-in virtualization (2)

Eil (82413) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959745)

Now they should put parted and KVM [linux-kvm.org] in there and we can finally be done with the whole concept of dual-booting.

Re:built-in virtualization (2, Insightful)

Eil (82413) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959769)

Oh, never mind. Apparently they did. I should really RTFA before commenting.

That's called a hypervisor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959759)

If you have a board which is supported by Coreboot (formerly known as LinuxBIOS), you can put your own Linux kernel and initial ram disk into the flash, or a variety of boot loaders. The possibility of a hypervisor in the flash chip and lots of technical details are mentioned in this presentation by Peter Stuge at 25c3 (25th Chaos Communication Congress). Includes a demo of booting from power on to a shell in 5 seconds:

http://ftp.ccc.de/congress/25c3/video_h264_720x576/25c3-2970-en-coreboot_beyond_the_final_frontier.mp4 [ftp.ccc.de]

Non-unique? (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959773)

Wasn't there a similar innovation made by Phoenix or ASUS last year? I can't remember the name of it, but Slashdot covered it.

A button for switching main boot hard disk... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959793)

... would be much better, and a lot safer. I would prefer it of BIOS writers just leave the BIOS as is but allow users to simply choose which drive to boot from so no dual booting is required.

So you are able to disconnect/switch the other disc electronically via some solid state mechanism, rather then having to go into the bios, using jumpers and dinking around with settings, you should just be able to change the channels, and choose which drive to boot from externally, no virtualization software, no dinking with bios settings or master slave issues, no bullshit, no hassle.

IBM did this already, right? (1)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959799)

I hope that someone who is more familiar with this will fill in the details, but as I recall one of IBM's mainframe did this back in the 1970's. Basically, every user who logged onto the system got their own virtualized private OS.

Re:IBM did this already, right? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959859)

Yes, IBM used a similar, but more comprehensive approach in the System/38 - AS/400 - iSeries. Strictly speaking, the SLIC encompased this and loaded a "virtual machine" (similar to the JVM in Java) which provided the instruction set and support for the higher-level operating system.

Re:IBM did this already, right? (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959963)

I hope that someone who is more familiar with this will fill in the details, but as I recall one of IBM's mainframe did this back in the 1970's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VM_(operating_system) [wikipedia.org]

When mainframes were Really Really Expensive, it was the only way for small shops to have a development "machine".

Basically, every user who logged onto the system got their own virtualized private OS.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversational_Monitor_System [wikipedia.org]

It's called DOS, and it was done a long time ago.. (4, Interesting)

gillbates (106458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959821)

DOS was a BIOS based OS. It passed a large number of its calls directly to the BIOS. We all know how well that worked out.

That said, I would rather have a read-only, default, fallback, usable OS in the system firmware. You know, something that could be used for:

  1. OS installation.
  2. Basic networking.
  3. Backup and recovery operations.
  4. Performing basic system utilities.

The PC is one of the few platforms where the hardware is actually useless to the end user without an installed operating system. Reflashable BIOSes further compound the problem by allowing a software command to render the hardware unbootable and unrecoverable (that is, unless you happen to have a FLASH programmer and another computer lying around...). The PC has perhaps the worst architure and implementation of any major platform, and it's about time they did something to fix that.

In fact, with the falling prices of flash, why not just flash a Linux kernel into the BIOS?

  1. A bootable, usable Linux system with BusyBox can fit into 4 MB of flash.
  2. A 64MB flash (possibly much less) could support the above, plus MicroWindows or similar.
  3. Why bother having a separate OS when the kernel could fit on the firmware?
  4. Let the rest of the system - libraries, apps, configuration, etc... reside on the disk, but keep the hardware related parts (i.e. drivers, etc...) on the firmware itself.
  5. With kernel drivers *in the hardware itself*, one would never have to worry about getting the correct driver, etc...

Re:It's called DOS, and it was done a long time ag (1)

Max Littlemore (1001285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960037)

I have wanted that for years, but not just for basic tasks, I want everything from /boot /bin and /sbin at the least, and possibly /etc, /usr/lib, /usr/bin or paths under those. Give it a physical lock to switch between read only and read/write.

I have fond memories of the acorn archemides machines at school that booted in seconds and ran some pretty cool full 3D graphics stuff in 1991. Even todays latest greatest PCs seem like a step backwards in some ways. They take longer to get to a state that's usable and use a crap load more power to do the same tasks.

They are also vulnerable to exploits that require minimal user involvement, whereas having to physically replace or flash a chip or flick a switch makes the purely technical exploit nearly impossible. With that kind of setup, pretty much all exploits become social.

Some of the design choices of the eighties, born from technical limitations, far outdo anything we use toady. I say bring it back.

Atari TOS (2, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960259)

What you describe was implemented in the Atari ST.

Let the rest of the system - libraries, apps, configuration, etc... reside on the disk, but keep the hardware related parts (i.e. drivers, etc...) on the firmware itself.

That would work for drivers for the chipset, integrated peripherals, and devices that have a class driver (e.g. USB HID, USB storage, SATA storage, SATAPI optical storage). But where would drivers for plug-in PCIe and USB devices go?

Dont forget the cost! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959825)

Hyperspace is also subscription-based software. Screw paying yearly to use this! I'd rather kill a few bios chips or get an Asus board (*shudder* so many bad ones) than be paying yearly

Prediction (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27959843)

I predict that this marks a turning point for the last decade's massive success of the Intel architecture. The concept of a "closed and secret" BIOS has been a mess for a long time. It has worked because of a symbiotic relationship between Microsoft, BIOS vendors and Intel (AMD just hooked on). When BIOS vendors start things like this, Microsoft will no longer work with the BIOS vendors (which is dominated by Phoenix/AMI, Insyde and some smaller guys) We'll see what happens with EFI, but my prediction is that this will open up for ARM and possibly some competition from other architectures on heavier hardware. Interesting... It's definitely a win for Linux in more than just the obvious "Linux in the BIOS" way (which isn't really something I would want anyway).

GPL'd code available only by request? (2, Informative)

1729 (581437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959921)

So, after searching around for the GPL'd components, I finally found a link in the FAQ to this page:

http://www.hyperspace.com/HyperSpace/OpenSourceRequest.aspx [hyperspace.com]

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960017)

which complies with the GPL. they could also charge you for the physical source distribution.

yea, GPL, not so well-thought-out

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (2, Insightful)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960395)

It's not like it matters how easy they make it to access the source. Since it's under the GPL, there will be easy-to-use and easy-to-install community projects spun off from this, just like for wireless routers. Only people wanting to sync the project they manage with the manufacturer's source will need to try to acquire the manufacturer's code. Everybody else will get it in the form of a third-party improved distribution.

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (3, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960033)

Yup, that's all the GPL says they have to do.

In fact, providing a web form is being generous.. they could accept requests only by dead tree.

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (1)

1729 (581437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960097)

Yup, that's all the GPL says they have to do.

In fact, providing a web form is being generous.. they could accept requests only by dead tree.

Considering that the files are already on their site to download (but you have to jump through hoops to get to them), it seems like they are just trying to make it more difficult to get to the source code. That's lame.

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27960297)

Link?

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960489)

Oh, I don't disagree.. but if they said "write to [address] and we'll mail you a CD" that would be sufficient for the GPL.

Re:GPL'd code available only by request? (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960205)

Downloading it now. Big old tarball. Going to take some study to figure what bits are theirs and what bits are everyone else's.

Just work on coreboot damnit! (3, Interesting)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 5 years ago | (#27959969)

Why don't they just start to work on coreboot [coreboot.org] ? The piece of code shipped currently as BIOS could be so much better. There is an excellent Google Talk about coreboot's improvements [youtube.com] .

It's high time the old unflexible piece of crap BIOS died.

Re:Just work on coreboot damnit! (2, Informative)

Qubit (100461) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960065)

There are a number of boards and chipsets that work with coreboot, but there are many more that do not.

My guess is that Phoenix is trying to jump on the it-runs-linux bandwagon, leverage a bit of the benefits of the kernel to make a shiny app, and not really contribute back to the FOSS community any more than they have to. I could be wrong here, and I'd be more than happy to have someone from Phoenix correct me, but that's what these new quick-to-boot environments sound like.

One possible benefit from this work is that Phoenix will probably need to release the underlying kernel code that they use to talk to all of the hardware. Even if they don't want to make all of their toys Free Software, if we can at least get enough information from the Phoenix kernel improvements to make coreboot talk to the hardware, then we're in pretty handy shape.

So the order of the phoenix is ready (1)

anonymousNR (1254032) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960007)

to take over the lord vistamort

Department of Redundancy (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960067)

remain outside of Windows.

Yes, you said that already:

'trying to create a new market using the ideas of a fast-booting, safe platform that people can work in

MacGyver didn't need no stinkin' BIOS (obligatory) (4, Funny)

catmistake (814204) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960095)

He could boot your OS with a Swiss Army Knife, some duct tape and and old pop top, drawing the electricity needed from a box of old compasses. I guess he's retired from Phoenix by now, though...

BIOSOS (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960197)

Basic Input Output System Operating System...

that's like Personal Identification Number number.

Re:BIOSOS (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960345)

Repetitively redundant?

Did they publish the source? (3, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 5 years ago | (#27960273)

Does this include Linux code in the BIOS itself, or only load it off disk and use it. If the former, did they publish the source?

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