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Stallman Calls For Action on Free BIOS

Hemos posted more than 9 years ago | from the fighting-the-good-fight dept.

GNU is Not Unix 487

Dolda2000 writes "Seeking to achieve 100% software freedom, RMS is now calling for action for a free BIOS. From the article: "The most uncooperative company is Intel, which has started a sham 'open source' BIOS project. The software consists of all the unimportant parts of of a BIOS, minus the hard parts. It won't run, and doesn't bring us any closer to a BIOS that does. It is just a distraction. By contrast, AMD cooperates pretty well." For reference, there are currently two projects for a free BIOS that I know of: LinuxBIOS and OpenBIOS."

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487 comments

omg (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801587)

frost piss!

Re:omg (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801822)

Haaarharharhar! You flailed it!

What? (-1, Redundant)

deutschemonte (764566) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801588)

Wintel not co-operating?

For SHOCK!

Re:What? (3, Informative)

diegocgteleline.es (653730) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801735)

actually, Intel cooperates [intel.com] quite a bit, by maitaining their own network cards or providing 2 or 3 developers for the linux acpi subsystem:

diego@estel ~/kernel # grep -i @intel.com MAINTAINERS | wc -l
11

Re:What? (3, Informative)

pe1rxq (141710) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801848)

Intel support sucks....

They might have some great people working on linux but the company in general just doesn't care.
It took intel a full year before they had even half decent support for their wireless chipset despite promisses that they would support it when promoting it.
They refuse to release proper specs on their video chipsets in order to let X use the proper panel size on a laptop.

Jeroen

It makes sense (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801589)

It makes sense, to me anyways, to have an open bios. How can one claim to run a free system when their very boot process is hidden and secretive?

Re:It makes sense (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801679)

what about LinuxBIOS [linuxbios.org]

Re:It makes sense (3, Informative)

maotx (765127) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801774)

If you read their site it states that it can successfully boot into *nix, Windows 200, and *BSD. Support for XP in on the way.

Re:It makes sense (2, Interesting)

Chris Kamel (813292) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801776)

It makes sense, to me anyways, to have an open bios. How can one claim to run a free system when their very boot process is hidden and secretive?
It seems ppl now want open source software just for the sake of it. For claiming having the hypothetical "free" system. Noone stops to even think whey they need this open-sourced. One thing to keep in mind, open-source and proprietary software should co-exist and everyone should make their peace with that, u'll never get open-source software without proprietary ones, developers need to make a living too!

Re:It makes sense (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801782)

Do you think your processor should contain open microcode as well? Even if you install free software on your mainboard BIOS, what about the firmware on your drives and graphics card?

While a wholly open-source machine would be great, it won't be a reality until we have technology that breaks the electronics mass production bottleneck (perhaps nanoassemblers). In the mean time you just have to decide which companies you're prepared to trust.

Re:It makes sense (3, Interesting)

gwalcharian (797628) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801825)

Why does it make sense?

I am very much for Open Source, but for me "Open Source" includes BSD style licensed projects, but not GPL. Not trying to be flame bait, but I think GPL is damaging the Open Source movement. I say this because as a commercial developer I know plenty of managers who won't let me use Open Source on their projects because they think all Open Source has a viral license such as GPL.

"Software should be free..everything should be free, including the BIOS". Nice concept, but reality is we live in what's called a zero-sum game. We as humanity have a finite amount of resources, which means that if I'm going to expend resources by writing software I need to get something in return, in order to provide for my family.

BSD style licenses allow me to get recognition (not much I haven't written a lot of Open Source) and allow me to re-use that software in my commercial projects, which benefits me and Open Source as it allows me to get buy-in from management.

GPL licenses do not. Essentialy I write GPL software and I cannot use it in any commercial projects.

I love the concept of free software, and I think we are on a downward slide to having to pay a micro-payment for each web page you view, but call a spade a spade: IMHO, GPL is not designed to increase free software but to get rid of commercial software. As someone who's method of feeding my newborn baby is writing software you'll have to drag me kicking and screaming to work on any GPL'd code.

More of a rant than I intended but I'll leave it as is, and see open a forum this is.

Btw, I may very well be wrong as I have a limited viewpoint: A commercial developer, supporting a family, who has stayed away from GPL and even LGPL projects as code I write generally has to be re-usable in my commercial projects.

Re:It makes sense (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801838)

free-software religion aside, there are serious practical considerations to having closed bios code.

Bios support is an ongoing issue. Newer CPUs, RAM modules, hard drives, video cards are always coming out, as are bugs. With a closed source bios, support is cut after a certain length of time, and it is tough luck if any bios limitations exist after then. Oftentimes they don't address all the issues even while they're still making updates.

How many people are stuck with a motherboard they can't put a hard drive into, or can't do this or that, or are being bitten by a bug because of the bios. This happens all the time.

Also, bios setup screens are consistantly poorly designed, excessively limited, and written in "somebody set us up the bios" Engrish.

9 hours since last article (0, Troll)

bildungsroman_yorick (825714) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801593)

I might get things going a bit by submitting some of yesterdays stories.

Re:9 hours since last article (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801608)

Maybe, they were having a meeting to discuss sorting out the issues that have recurred over the last few weeks.

The troops are restless so to speak.

Either that, or they are sorting out a dupe lottery. Prizes given to the person who re-submits stories onto the front page.

Re:9 hours since last article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801635)

The troops are restless so to speak.

Maybe they're asleep? Is there some sort of shift rota?

Re:9 hours since last article (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801662)

I expect there is, but the GP was correct, theres not normally such a wide gap between articles.

(Unless goatse has suddenly become an editor)

Ibm (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801598)

What it needs is the support of Sony in their new cell line of PCs! If Intel won't listen then perhaps IBM will in their cell line of PCs.

And how about Apple and their Powerpcs? It'll only be one more step with them and their os based os, Panther.

Re:Ibm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801638)

If you want to run the open source parts of panther you might as well run a BSD or Linux, Apple edoesn't bring anything new to the table.

Re:Ibm (2, Interesting)

TheDredd (529506) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801641)

Apple uses open firmware for their boot mechanism, which is already pretty "open"

Re:Ibm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801647)

At least it has open in its name... Show me the source or read up on what open source is.

Liability problems? (4, Insightful)

bigtallmofo (695287) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801602)

I can't really imagine a free piece of software that will undoubtedly render some people's motherboards totally unusable.

Admittedly, not many people actually screw up their motherboards today because of company-supplied BIOS updates, but in my opinion the most likely reason for that is that most people don't update their motherboard's BIOS.

I think this is a necessary problem to solve for a host of reasons (the most pressing in my mind being removing "Trusted Computing Initiatives" or DRM) but I can't imagine who might be willing to distribute such a thing because of the liability concerns.

Re:Liability problems? (4, Informative)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801655)

The last time I checked, GPL and the vast majority of FS licenses specifically disclaimed every disclaimable type of warranty. In any sane jurisdiction, this leaves just intentional malicious acts.

Re:Liability problems? (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801707)

Well, that's okay then - I'll rest easy in my bed at night knowing that no matter how many machines my crappy code renders useless, no-one can successfully sue me.

As it happens, I tend to agree that liability shouldn't be a problem. However, when your code actually incapacitates a machine, people are more likely to think about trying to sue. That could still land developers in court, for all the disclaimers. That may well not be a risk people are willing to take, at least without a backer with deep pockets (paging IBM...)

Re:Liability problems? (2, Interesting)

jaredmauch (633928) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801686)

I have to agree with you entirely. (It's an easy way to increase the RMA rate. It would be possible to do some cool failsafe stuff, but that would increase the complexity of the system a great deal.) The only thing that I see that is missing from most motherboards BIOSes is excellent serial console support. Some motherboards do have it, but others are quite lacking..

While there are neat devices out there that will connect to the video card and keyboard and conver it, such as the Real Weasel [realweasel.com] , i'd rather see the solution embedded in the existing BIOS infrastructure.

I think the key thing here is to remember what BIOS stands for, which is the Basic Input Output System. Something to talk to the "known" devices, such as Serial Port (not USB folks), int13h disks, video and keyboard.

Re:Liability problems? (4, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801694)

A free (as in freedom) BIOS does not mandate that the motherboard manufacturer allows it's customers to tinker with it and still retain their warranty. But those who are willing to take the risk have the option, that's what freedom is all about.

Take the Linksys WRT54G, it's Linux-based. Linksys gains from using the well tested Linux core, and the customers gain by having the option to hack it at will. Check out http://openwrt.org/ [openwrt.org] for an example of the positive results.

Think of the BIOS as the ignition to your car. You can dismantle it if you wish, why should the PC's BIOS be any different?

Does Anyone KNow (3, Interesting)

millahtime (710421) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801604)

Does Anyone know what Intel gets out of not opening it up? Are there any IP issues?

Re:Does Anyone KNow (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801648)

> Does Anyone know what Intel gets out of not opening it up?

Yes, they don't want to be called GNU/Intel.

Re:Does Anyone KNow (4, Informative)

Rattencremesuppe (784075) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801696)

Does Anyone know what Intel gets out of not opening it up? Are there any IP issues?

Due to the low-level nature of a BIOS, they would expose lots of hardware details. It's the same reason why many hardware manufacturers are reluctant to release open source drivers (or to provide OSS community with hardware specs).

Re:Does Anyone KNow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801781)

Locking out HyperThreading capability in CPUs that aren't supposed to have it? It's simpler to do this in BIOS than to really remove HT support from the CPU itself.

How would "cooperating"..... (4, Insightful)

bpuli (654182) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801605)

to create "free" BIOS help Intel? Would gain market share? Would it somehow end up with a new revenue stream that it cannot access with its current marketing and other strategies? What can it gain by winning over a bunch of geeks?

This is not flame bait. I am just trying to understand why corporations like Intel would cooperate.

All I can say is stop whining and move on.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (3, Insightful)

FrostedWheat (172733) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801658)

For all the effort it would take them! All that have to do is release some documents. Even if they charged a small and fair fee to cover the costs of someone finding it and giving it a quick review before releasing it.

In short, if done correctly it would cost them nothing and give them a bit more credibility.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (2, Interesting)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801680)

I don't know how much R&D Intel are investing in their BIOS but one possible benefit to them would be gaining extra manpower from other people interested in improving their BIOS and potentially a bigger testing base to test changes.

I don't really see what they have to lose though, they are mainly interested in selling chips and the BIOS is just something they have to provide in order for them to work.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (2, Insightful)

Mork29 (682855) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801682)

I hear that this Intel company is competing with this AMD company. If they offer something that AMD doesn't, then they get customers (well, thos customers that want an open bios). Seriously though, you have to appeal to geeks. I get asked by non-geeks all of the time, what type of computer should I buy? Many of them know to ask, AMD or Intel? If I'm an OSS fan, and AMD has an open bios, and intel doesn't, I'm more likely to both recommend, and buy myself AMD products.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (1)

Aumaden (598628) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801743)

I suspect that unless those non-geeks are buying in very large quantities (e.g. 200+ units) Intel will never notice. They won't listen until the corporate buyers start saying "We need an open source bios or we go with AMD."

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (1)

maotx (765127) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801803)

No, but Intel only companies like Dell will miss that potential market even more.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (1)

CdBee (742846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801761)

I guess they'd keep the more innovative sections of the tech world using their products as a dev platform,rather than AMD/nVidia's....

For most people, geeks are an occasional annoyance but for intel, they're the lifeblood of the firm

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (5, Insightful)

thejam (655457) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801764)

Stop whining? RMS not only instilled in us the ideal of free software but also provided gobs of it and with excellent quality yet! Move on? You mean accept the situation. You mean define what _we_ desire in terms of other's interests? Especially if those interests can hurt us all? I say respect yourself more and value your freedom.

It's called free market (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801765)

If you had read the article by Stallman you'd have found out that Stallmann is specifically asking people that agree with him on the need for a free bios to boycott Intel and tell them about the reason for boycotting them.

So what Stallman is trying to do is build a market force that will persuade Intel that it is in its best interest to create a free bios or at least to not stand in the way of creating one.

Hope this answers your question.

Re:How would "cooperating"..... (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801819)

How can a feeble troll - telling RMS to "stop whining" - possibly be interpreted as `insightful`?

Here ya go... (-1, Offtopic)

NewOrleansNed (836441) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801607)

Well, I was born on a hot August morning. The early years are cloudy, but at the age of 2, I took a great deal of satisfaction in defecating in a porcelain bowl....

Oh. Is that right? Nevermind, he wants free BIOS, not autobios...

Re:Here ya go... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801654)

Ha ha haa....ha... Oh. That wasn't really funny.

New Features (2, Funny)

adennis (846411) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801610)

That'll be great to get a really good Open Source BIOS - we'll have new features and capabilities not ever thought of before: who knows, maybe we'll see a Nintendo Emulator for our POST...

It's my flashBIOS chip... (5, Insightful)

Amnenth (698898) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801615)

An open-source BIOS is something I'd really appreciate having, especially with the big corporations moving towards their big 'Trusted Computing' platform. It's MY hardware and I'll runn whatever the hell I want on it, not what some mega-corporate conglomerate decides I should.

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (1)

weicco (645927) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801640)

Well, you are almost correct. You can run whatever the hell you want on it if you haved valid license for it.

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (5, Insightful)

Mmm coffee (679570) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801741)

How do I know that there isn't spyware code in my bios revealing information about me without my knowledge? How do I know that the lowest level components of my system will perform without any "Trusted Computing" quirks? If I for some reason need to modify my bios to gain a function (to make boot time clustering easier, for example), how could I do that with a non-Free BIOS? As a student, what if I wanted to study the code to my BIOS so I know how my computer _really_ works, on all levels?

Saying "The license to your BIOS doesn't matter as long as you can run stuff on it" is like saying "The fact that my car's engine is sealed in a lead black box doesn't matter as long as I can still drive." Yeah, on the surface it's true but when you think of the subject with any actual depth it just doesn't make sense.

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801845)

Most people who download open source software just install it without looking for things like this anyway. I don't read source code before installing.....do you?

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (4, Insightful)

Mmm coffee (679570) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801678)

That's exactly why a Free bios is necessary. I am typing this up in a Free Software browser (Konqueror) in a Free Software window manager (KDE), which run on top of a Free Software graphical manager (X), which runs on top of a Free Software system (Gnu), which runs on top of a Free Software kernel (Linux), which is booted by a Free Software boot loader (Grub). All of this Free Software runs on top of a non-free BIOS.

This raises the question - Am I really Free? When a Free Software BIOS exists, you can make a safe bet that I'll be using it.

(P.S. I'd suggest against using the term Open Source to describe software which is made to protect the rights of the users. There is a huge difference between Free Software and Open Source - Namely OS completely avoids any real mention of software Freedom. You won't find any mention of the four freedoms [gnu.org] on OSI's site [opensource.org] . Indeed, the only real mention of software freedom is where they call it ideological tub-thumping [opensource.org] . This is definitely a Free Software issue, not an Open Source issue.)

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (0)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801714)

All of this Free Software runs on top of a non-free BIOS.

Not really.... Most modern operating systems ignore the BIOS as soon as they are bootstrapped. So the only parts that are going to use the BIOS are Grub or LiLo.

Of course, I might have misunderstood something about how modern operating systems work.

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (1)

cmad_x (723313) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801806)

This raises the question - Am I really Free?
Here's another question: Why do you want to be "Free"? I'm just trying to understand your logic. Why is running solely Free Software so important? Or let's put it this way: why is running non-Free Software so bad?

PS. I, too, use Free Software (or OSS, whichever you prefer) because I just prefer the quality, but I don't get this "Free Software or nothing" logic.

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801814)


I'd suggest against using the term Open Source to describe software which is made to protect the rights of the users [...]

Ooooh! Nice to see you here on Slashdot, Rich...

Re:It's my flashBIOS chip... (1)

Erik Hensema (12898) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801816)

All of this Free Software runs on top of a non-free BIOS.

No it isn't. The bios initializes the hardware and provides a 16-bit interface to the OS (which Linux obviously can't use because Linux is 32-bit).

After bootstrapping the OS, the BIOS does very little.

Treacherous computing (4, Insightful)

IO ERROR (128968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801691)

RMS calls this treacherous computing [gnu.org] , and with good reason. The BIOS is where everything starts; if a manufacturer doesn't want you doing something with your computer, that is where they would put it.

"Treacherous computing" is a more appropriate name, because the plan is designed to make sure your computer will systematically disobey you. In fact, it is designed to stop your computer from functioning as a general-purpose computer. Every operation may require explicit permission.

This makes it even more critical that we get free software BIOSes, and soon!

Flashing up is hard to do (3, Interesting)

IO ERROR (128968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801622)

Okay, RMS is right; we need some action here. I run Linux exclusively on a piece of $#!+^H^H^H^H^H Dell hardware, and when they put out a BIOS update, getting it actually flashed involves the following misadventure:
  1. Unzip the self-extracting archive.
  2. Find the disk image included therein, and burn it to CD-RW as an ElTorito bootable CD. (With nothing in the data track.)
  3. Boot from CD and flash BIOS.
  4. Erase CD-RW.
  5. Don't Profit!
I'd love to have an alternative to the BIOS which is open source, or free software, or both. That way I can finally claim to have a computer completely free of closed, proprietary software. And maybe have a chance of configuring the hardware a little better as well. Dell's BIOS is painfully short on options.

Re:Flashing up is hard to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801646)

Find the disk image included therein, and burn it to CD-RW as an ElTorito bootable CD. (With nothing in the data track.)

You don't have a floppy? You could buy a USB floppy drive, modern BIOSes will boot from them and they're pretty cheap, and some people still give me floppies so it never hurts to have around.

Re:Flashing up is hard to do (2, Interesting)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801661)

Infact, newer versions of some dell bioses actually break X, atleast the latest bios for the inspiron 2600 laptops prevents X from starting up.
Aside from that, why do they bother with floppy images? most of their machines dont come with floppy drives anymore anyway.. and a program you run from the os won't work too well if the old bios is causing your os to not boot.

CD-RW Firmware? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801675)

How are you going to "have a computer completely free of closed, proprietary software" until your Optical drives and your hard drive are both using open-source firmware???????

Re:Flashing up is hard to do (1)

HawkingMattress (588824) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801677)

I'd love to have an alternative to the BIOS which is open source, or free software, or both. That way I can finally claim to have a computer completely free of closed, proprietary software. And maybe have a chance of configuring the hardware a little better as well.

How would it work ? If such a bios existed, it would have to be pretty generic, right ? Unless the makers of the bios know more about each existing motherboard than the manufacturers, which is ,well, not likely... Having a higher level "bios" which sits on top of the manufacturer's, is stored in flash ram and gives additionnal functionnalities might be more realistic.

Re:Flashing up is hard to do (3, Informative)

Enry (630) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801690)

IBM's server hardware BIOS can be flashed from Linux.

Eat your own dog food.... (5, Interesting)

Gopal.V (532678) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801639)

What ever you say about RMS - he does eat his own dog food. I heard about the pains the FreeBIOS team had in converting RMS's personal laptop to FreeBIOS sometime back. But all that said, I am NOT going to flash this thing onto my boxes. This is what I'll do -

You can help our campaign by buying AMD CPU chips and not buying Intel, and by publishing statements about what you're doing. Likewise, buy motherboards that support free BIOS.

According to the FreeBIOS website, Acer , Via and SiS support it . And it will probably see a LOT of Bochs [sourceforge.net] in testing too. So I might opt for an Acer laptopt finally (it's cheap too)

Re:Eat your own dog food.... (2, Interesting)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801670)

You can help our campaign by buying AMD CPU chips and not buying Intel, and by publishing statements about what you're doing. Likewise, buy motherboards that support free BIOS.

According to the FreeBIOS website, Acer , Via and SiS support it . And it will probably see a LOT of Bochs in testing too. So I might opt for an Acer laptopt finally (it's cheap too)


Well my new linux box has an AMD64 cpu on an Asus motherboard with a Via chipset. Guess that's at least 2 our of 3.

Motherboard support (5, Insightful)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801645)

The problem with a motherboard BIOS is that it's tailored to the motherboard. Could the open source fratenity actually produce a workable product across a large number of motherboards? Would they produce something that works properly on all of them, instead of having modules that have been got to a state where they're good enough for the hacker creating them, but not Joe average on the street.

To be honest, if it's just a BIOS clone, I won't be interested anyway - wake me up when someone recreates OpenFirmware for the PC.

Re:Motherboard support (1)

Badgerman (19207) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801687)

That's a good question. Five years ago I'd have had my doubts. However, having seen Linux make good progress, I can buy the idea of an Open Source BIOS doing the same thing.

It's not so much can it be done - it's will it be done, will people push for it, support it, evangelize it, etc.

Re:Motherboard support (2, Insightful)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801689)

The problem with a motherboard BIOS is that it's tailored to the motherboard.

Not all that much of a different problem from a device driver that's tailored to the device.

Re:Motherboard support (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801710)

True, but look at how many of them are unsupported or partially supported to the point where Joe Average can use them.

Also, when a driver is unsuitable, the worst case scenario is you have to take a hard drive out and put it in another machine to fix the problem.

A BIOS? Since to be truly free you'd have to take off the manufacturers recovery code, you'd better hope you have a suitable EPROM programmer to hand!

Re:Motherboard support (4, Informative)

IO ERROR (128968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801734)

To be honest, if it's just a BIOS clone, I won't be interested anyway - wake me up when someone recreates OpenFirmware for the PC.

That's what OpenBIOS [openbios.info] are doing!

Re:Motherboard support (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801738)

To be honest, if it's just a BIOS clone, I won't be interested anyway - wake me up when someone recreates OpenFirmware for the PC.

That the stated goal of OpenBIOS [openbios.info] . Yes, it would be great, but getting there without the chip manufacturers help is not going to be easy. (if not impossible)

Re:Motherboard support (1)

Grounded0 (703575) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801789)

OpenFirmware for the PC would be nice. Standards like OpenFirmware just have no place on a PC. Requiring hardware manufacturers to, for once, actually have to abide by EXACTLY ONE standard will just not happen.

A new platform will have to be conconcted to house all the shit sound/video/ethernet cards people are using now. With some "BIOS" implementation that'll be just as bad, or worse, if that's possible.

Floppy disk sales will plummet, what with firmware being built-into cards, and people being able to netboot their PC's, or EVEN BOOT OFF THE SECOND HARD DISK.

Windows XP SP3 will only boot from said "BIOS", OpenFirmware x86 will never be MS supported. Ugh, it says it's "open".

Hardware detection on the PC will probably always be shoddy, because most hardware for them is shoddy. No two BIOS's are the same. An abundance of cards exist that rely on Windows driver code to do the work the hardware should, so even if you detect it you can't use it.

Let's take an example: basically, you can't _not_ detect all of the hardware on a Macintosh, thanks to OpenFirmware. It's not the job of the OS to determine the hardware, good firmware should take care of that, and present a nice list to the OS of what's available, and at what addresses.

If only the PC lost to the Macintosh, it might be a nice world in spite of the fact we'd still have copies of Windows running around, just for different (better) architectures.

"Hardware Detection" would be a term used only inside of labs actually making the hardware/firmware. OS's could get on with, well, Operating.

Innovation (4, Interesting)

Mork29 (682855) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801649)

I think that an open BIOS could really change things. The bios is something that hasn't seen true development or innovation since it's inception. Many products have been used by the masses, and not improved, untill FOSS was there to take it's job, and then they got on the ball, and they started competing with each other. This benefits everybody in the end. Besides, anybody who has ever done any OS or bootstrapping development, knows that there are way to many peculiar BIOSs out there, that have to be planned for. They load your code at different locations, they set the registers to different values, and your left wasting those first 512 bytes, just cleaning up what the bios did.

Re:Innovation (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801808)

I think there has been at least one major development in the history of BIOS firmware, System Management Mode (SMM). You may think you have control over your system, that only open source software is running on the CPU, but you may not know that it is also running code from the BIOS in SMM. By design, it is supposed to be transparent to the operating system, except for the cycles it steals. Its use seems to be especially common in laptops. The motherboard designer can put anything they want in there and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. The motherboard can take the CPU away from the operating system whenever it wants to. You get the leftovers.

LinuxBIOS isn't a BIOS (5, Informative)

hpa (7948) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801657)

LinuxBIOS is not a BIOS, it's a non-standard firmware interface.

This is pretty much OK for embedded use, but for anything where you need standard BIOS functionality, it's useless. Worse, the name "LinuxBIOS" implies that it is BIOS functionality, which causes people to try to use it in inappropriate situations.

Re:LinuxBIOS isn't a BIOS (2, Interesting)

crok (154504) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801706)

Didn't someone put this together with the BOCHS BIOS at some point? That would enable booting an OS from disc in the more conventional fashion, as well as supplying all the icky legacy stuff you need to run DOS.

Re:LinuxBIOS isn't a BIOS (2, Informative)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801763)

LinuxBIOS is not a BIOS, it's a non-standard firmware interface.

Not exactly. It's actually a BIOS. It replaces your PC BIOS. And last I checeked, it could boot and run Windows 2000, Linux and OpenBSD. It's not as standardized as other BIOSes, but it's still a well functioning BIOS.

Paranoia? (4, Insightful)

ayn0r (771846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801668)

The most uncooperative company is Intel, which has started a sham 'open source' BIOS project. The software consists of all the unimportant parts of of a BIOS, minus the hard parts. It won't run, and doesn't bring us any closer to a BIOS that does. It is just a distraction.

It might just be me being naïve, but would Intel really go to such lengths to create a "distraction"? I find it a bit paranoid to think they'd start a project with the sole intention of just slowing down the progress for an open sourced BIOS.

ObLinusQuote (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801672)

"Anybody who tells me I can't use a program because it's not open source, go suck on rms. I'm not interested. 99% of that I run tends to be open source, but that's _my_ choice, dammit." (Linus Torvalds, October 26, 2004)

"minus all the Hurd parts" (2, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801684)

Is it just a coincidence that he is frustrated by the progress of a new open BIOS project because his Free kernel project has languished in obscurity and incompleteness for a decade?

Come on. Intel only started their project in the past couple years. If you can't finish Hurd on your own, don't gripe about other projects which aren't moving fast enough for you. Or, hey, maybe you could look in the other kernels... you know, the Open Source kernels which aren't owned by the FSF. They seem to be able to do the job. They've been running all this time, while Hurd hasn't.

Sure, you're going to say Hurd runs. Well, where's the GNU/GNU Distro?

Re:"minus all the Hurd parts" (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801752)

I don't care what you say Hurd i many ways it is far superior architecture to Linux.
For some applications, especially embedded devices, real-time applications or applications requiring near zero downtime or enhanced security Hurd in it's current state is better than Linux in it's current state.

Stop trolling, unless you can point me to a Symbian desktop that runs on x86.

n.b. the Hurd 'kernel' isn't really it's the Mach microkernel with some boltons.

Re:"minus all the Hurd parts" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801792)

Erm, hard, not hurd.
And Debian has a Hurd port, which is your GNU/GNU distro for you.

Re:"minus all the Hurd parts" (4, Informative)

Mmm coffee (679570) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801833)

This has nothing to do with GNU Hurd, but instead with Free Software itself [gnu.org] - to ensure that users aren't restricted by the software they use it is necessary to have Free versions of _ALL_ parts of the system, including the BIOS. If there is one single part of the system that is non-Free, then the entire system is comprimised.

Contrary to popular opinion, Stallman is the last person in the entire Free Software/Open Source movement that I would expect doing something due to an ego issue. Listen to his speeches, read his writings, hell, email the man himself [mailto] and ask him if this is due to Hurd. He just wants to see people not chained by thier own technology.

Re:"minus all the Hurd parts" (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801853)

Is it just a coincidence that he is frustrated by the progress of a new open BIOS project because his Free kernel project has languished in obscurity and incompleteness for a decade?

HURD after Linux is like knocking down an open door. RMS fanatically wants all his software to be free (as in freedom). The BIOS is the last part of the puzzle. The IBM example is a good one.

There should be no reason for "trusted computing" to change anything. If it doesn't have a TCPA-compliant BIOS, it shouldn't give the right hash and the entire chain would be broken from the get-go. The only thing this indicates to me is that TCPA can be disabled by a hacked BIOS. I thought the big idea was that hardware would verify the BIOS, BIOS would verify the OS, OS would verify the apps. Guess I was wrong...

Kjella

Here's an idea, Richard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801701)

"If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride . . . "

Instead of wishing, why not start a fund say, initially at a target of about a half million dollars. Then hire a couple of top notch BIOS engineers, and lease a bus and logic analyzer, and a real good oscope. That's the way to do it.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801712)

Why is Intel being such an ass? Do they gain from restricting open-source ventures, they could only help themselves by allowing strictly open-source geeks like myself access to the bios.

Why the BIOS will never be Open Source (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801716)

As many of you already should know; creating a fully usable BIOS takes more than just programming code. A certain amount of magic is also needed. Magic is not, has never and will never be open source. Magic is closed source for many good reasons.

Microsoft knows magic. Linus Torvalds, RMS et al. does not.

I predict that Microsoft will create an XP based BIOS is the near future.

Magic, BIOS, Microsoft. Let's have som cake.

The problem is, "what do you mean by BIOS?" (5, Interesting)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801728)

The problem with a statement like "We need a Free BIOS" is exactly what you mean by "BIOS".

There are two extremes to the schools of thought on this.

The first is the minimalist: The BIOS is just enough code to put the machine into a state where it can load the real OS, and once the real OS is loaded the BIOS is no longer relevant. At a minimum this code would just set up the basics of the machine, and then load some section of the hard disk into memory and jump to it.

The second is the maximalist: The BIOS should provide abstract access to all hardware so that the OS does not have to have drivers. The BIOS would provide routines for the disk controller, video, human interface systems (mouse/keyboard/etc.), memory control, system control, you name it. The OS would never get its hands dirty accessing real hardware.

Both of these approaches have problems. The Minimalist approach means the OS has to support all hardware - which is the lament those of us who don't run Microsoft operating systems will sometimes have. If your OS does not know about your shiny new FooCard then you are out of luck. In the ideal Maximalist case, the BIOS would supply routines to access all the functions of the FooCard and your OS would Just Work no matter what.

However, the problem with the ideal Maximalist approach is that desiging a BIOS API that will work with all operating systems is HARD . Your BIOS has to have a means of calling back into the OS (since real, non-trivial drivers need to have things like semaphores, queues, interrupt handlers, rescheduling points, etc.), but then you have to insure that all operating systems supply all those APIs with the same semantics.

Now, ask yourself, if you designed a BIOS callback API around the Windows semantics (drivers cannot block, drivers must schedule a deferred procedure call if they cannot complete, drivers cannot cause a page fault to swap) how different it would be from a Unix-y style callback (drivers can block, drivers can pagefault from swap, drivers run til they are done).

The current thoughts are "The OS knows best what to do, let the OS have the drivers".

Now, in the context of a Free driver, you have to decide where between the Minimalist and the Maximalist you want to draw the line. Do you want to force the OS to have the code to set up the memory handlers and PCI bridges, for example? If the OS can handle reprogramming the PCI bridges it sure makes PCI hotplugging a great deal easier!

If you look at the LinuxBIOS approach, it is more of a maximalist approach targeting the Linux kernel. This is great if you run Linux, but what if you want to run *BSD, or Windows, or CP/M-86?

It would be possible, barely, to do like my old Multia did - provide BOTH a Windows friendly BIOS and a *nix friendly BIOS, and a means to switch between them. But now you've just doubled (actually more than doubled) the work for a system manufacturer - he has to write a BIOS for Windows, a BIOS for Linux, an BIOS for NetBSD....

"Just publish the specs, and we will write the driver!"

Again, publishing all the specs is hard - there's always that little "Oh yeah, we found that if the temp is less than 5C you have to wait an additional 50uS for this part to respond to a query - it's not intended behavior but it is observed behavior, Charlie found that out."

And even if you can completely document all the specs, there is still the little issue of "How do I, the end user, get the BIOS for *my* OS flashed onto this board?" - if you think the manufacturers are going to flash boards with seventeen different BIOSes depending upon the customers whims... I have some oceanfront property in Goddard, KS to sell you.

Then there is the issue of add-in cards - how do you integrate any BIOS they may have on them into the BIOS on your motherboard?

Now, I know somebody will point out OpenFirmware - the idea that the cards provide drivers in a bytecoded language targeting an API provided by the BIOS. This is nothing more than the Maximalist approach with CPU architecture independance - and has the same sort of problem, namely how do you provide the same low level when the upperlevels can have completely different semantics for the OS?

AND, if you look at OpenFirmware systems, while the cards can provide basic bootup drivers to the OS, these drivers are NOT up to the performance standards needed to run the main system - they are good enough to boot the system, and then get replaced by OS specific drivers (and now we are back to the Minimalist approach).

I do embedded systems for a living - and I am looking at the LinuxBIOS project as a means to speed up my box's boot time. However, that is because I have selected Linux as the operating system - I do not care if my box cannot run Windows.

Now, RMS doesn't care if a new CPU can run Windows, either (at least that is what I would guess - I cannot know Richard's mind). But Richard, should you read this post, let me ask this: would your OpenBIOS allow booting of Linux, HURD, and/or *BSD? And if so, how would you resolve the differences between a monolithic design like Linux and a microkernel design like HURD?

Re:The problem is, "what do you mean by BIOS?" (1)

ooze (307871) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801849)

Here Here! Me pointing out OpenFirmware!

Which is you "maximalist approach" but highly modular and at leats a clean interface. Not the heap of historically grown madness the bios is. Noone wants to have the BIOS to provide all the drivers for all hardware. Just basic functionality (like a textmode graphics) and all the nifty stuff left to the OS. Noone wants to flash the whole bios every time you get your newest ATI driver that gives you 3.1 fps more after looking that your running program is doom3 exe.

Having this defined device tree in the firmware,and all this debugging capabilities in it, and the minimal functionality too, is makes the system programmers life so much easier. And if you really need to, you can translate the hardware semantics provided by the firmware in the semantics you came up with on your system. Real drivers are OS-specific anyway.

I'm all for getting rid of the crufted BIOS and letting it become a footnote in computing and go the way of ebcdi,and self-modifying code.

Why rewrite a free version of the same horror? (4, Interesting)

forgoil (104808) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801739)

Isn't it really time for some improvements in the bios area? Most OSes today don't use much of what is there, and the BIOS only function is to set up a number of parameters most non-overclockers/non-nerds could care less about.

What about making something more useful than what is there now? Something that could have more features, such as replacing grub all together? (as in be able to boot any of your OSes on any any kind of bootable hardware) Maybe even have it run *gasp* in 32/64-bit mode and leave all the old horrors of x86 BIOSes behind, and maybe even make it possible to tailer it to other kinds of hardware (not x86).

If they want people to support this, they really need to add some value to the whole thing, as many do care less about holier-than-thou hippiness.

Re:Why rewrite a free version of the same horror? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801835)

Because doing that is hard.

Whining and moaning about for-profit companies not wanting to give their stuff away for free, is easy.

Open Hardware (3, Interesting)

tbcpp (797625) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801744)

This is a good starting place. "I have a dream" that someday we can have open hardware as well as software (aka www.opencores.org).

Show us the code (-1, Troll)

dbIII (701233) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801748)

RMS is now calling for action for a free BIOS
Well off you go then RMS, get started and show us what you have after a few weeks - after all you're the guy that "invented" emacs while other people actually wrote it, then went on to try to rename linux, which other people had written. We need results and not just complaints.

The GPL is a wonderful contribution, but we still need to take the words of it's writer on other issues strictly on their merits.

Re:Show us the code (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801823)

This is a greatly injust comment to the man who started the free software movement. Please note that RMS is the man behind gcc, the most important free piece of software in existance.

Why wouldn't vendors want a free BIOS? (2, Interesting)

Hortensia Patel (101296) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801751)

I mean, leaving aside the "free-as-in-speech" angle, surely the "free-as-in-beer" angle has undeniable attractions?

Is it really just a case of the dominant vendors wanting to use BIOS quirks to lock-in their market share?

RMS who? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801758)

Does anyone even care what RMS says or does these days? The guy needs a shave, bath, shower, a new pair of pants, and a better understanding of the free market society. Why does this crackpot make the news anymore?

Oh what a shock - RMS wants something for nothing (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11801759)

Give me free stuff that you created through your hard work and your using your money!

I'm "entitled" to it here in my socialist utopia where the individual is evil and the collective is all that matters. There is no more will of the individual, only the colective, and fat hairy sweaty guys will decide what the collective's needs are.

Its the same old song and dance. /yawn

Upcoming Slashdot article: (4, Funny)

harris s newman (714436) | more than 9 years ago | (#11801778)

RMS, seeking 100% freedom, calls for a free governement. He was quickly carried off to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for what was called a "debriefing". Knowledgable sources have stated that he will be released "someday".
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