April 5, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Battle brews over unlocking PC secrets

As computer makers move to embed security features deep within PCs, a fight is erupting over a rarely noticed but crucial piece of system software.

The construction and installation of the BIOS--the basic input/output system that underlies all other applications--are closely guarded by a small number of PC makers, such as Dell, and specialty BIOS programming companies for hire.

Now, for the first time, some critics want to force the industry to abandon its hallmark secrecy. As the BIOS becomes more powerful, these critics argue, consumers must be allowed to freely develop their own alternatives to ensure that they keep control of their devices--and that means they need unfettered access to information.

News.context

What's new:
Details about the basic software that lets your operating system get started are closely guarded. Critics of BIOS secrecy want to force the door open so consumers take charge of their own computers.

Bottom line:
Makers of BIOS software get proprietary information from chipmakers and others. As critics call for free BIOS software, expect those who hold the secrets to keep a tight grip.

More stories on BIOS

"We need a free BIOS, because if we don't control the BIOS we don't control our computers," said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, a Boston-based organization dedicated to promoting the use, modification and redistribution of computer programs. "It puts me in an ethically compromised position to have a nonfree program in my machine."

The free-BIOS initiative comes at a time when the BIOS is undergoing the first major change in its history--a transition from software based on machine code to a new framework dubbed the Extensible Firmware Interface, or EFI. At the same time, efforts to secure PCs through hardware-based defenses are leading critics like Stallman to warn of a pending loss of consumer control over their devices.

The FSF has spearheaded numerous campaigns lobbying for greater consumer control over software. The group now plans to mount a campaign to open up specifications required to write BIOSes. The change that Stallman advocates would let people install, modify and redistribute BIOS software--although not necessarily free of charge. Significantly, that would allow people to circumvent some pending security enhancements, including digital-rights management features aiming to prevent unauthorized use of confidential corporate documents and other copyrighted materials.

If the operating system is the equivalent of a computer's brain, then the BIOS might be compared to the medula oblongata, the place where the brain meets the spine. The most primitive reflexes are governed here, well below the level of conscious thought. Typically, the BIOS announces its presence on start-up via flashing lights and whirring drives as it prepares a machine to receive higher-level instructions from its operating system.

Given the closely held nature of the BIOS business, Stallman and his foundation are likely to face resistance from hardware and BIOS makers. Many already contend that creating free BIOS software just for the sake of its being free has limited value to computer users. Executives at BIOS makers and chip giant Intel argue instead that today's tightly controlled model helps maintain PCs' security and stability, and fosters competition by protecting companies' intellectual property.

"Neither you nor I, as a user of a computer, has any reason to change the BIOS...unless it's broken," said Jonathan Joseph, chief executive of BIOS maker Insyde Software. "You're not going to type any faster in (Microsoft) Word because you have a new BIOS. The only thing you hide in BIOS is broken hardware."

"It puts me in an ethically compromised position to have a non-free program in my machine."
--Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation

Others say that a very good reason to keep the BIOS closely held is to defend against hackers.

"The one thing we have to worry about first is security. What do you think would happen if there was a virus that started reflashing," or rewriting, BIOS software, said Mike Goldgof, senior vice president of marketing at Phoenix Technologies. "If it ever happened on a large scale, I think a lot of PCs would start turning into bricks. What people take for granted...is the reliability of the (BIOS) firmware today."

Intel has proposed a middle ground of sorts by opensourcing technology it calls Tiano. Tiano is its implementation of a framework for creating a BIOS

CONTINUED:
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118 comments

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Evilness and no-cost software
What makes companies like Microsoft and Phoenix "Evil" and groups like the FSF not? Perhaps it is the "Donate" tab on their site that defaults to $100? I always find it funny people who go on about no-cost and free software as often they are suported by the donations of a few. True free software is rare, my favourite example is www.analogx.com. No donate button, no ads, no "professional" versions and no guilt trips.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free means Freedom, not price!
No matter how many times you know-nots (resisting the inclination to say Trolls) say that it is wrong to charge for Free Software, this simply doesn't make the one sided use of the ambiguous English word free the right one.

Free means the Freedom to use, modify and redistribute the Software under the auspices of its license. This never was, never is and never will be about the amount of money that is charged for Free Software.
Posted by (4 comments )
Link Flag
The "Consumers" DON"T CARE!
Just a bunch of self righteous technical type folks that somehow think that want to "rage against the Machine". I am a professional programmer using both Java & .Net. I don't give a hoot who writes the BIOS and if I can see the source code. I have plenty of my own to worry about. Besides, ALL large companies are "evil", not just the select few tech companies that the open/free/untested/hence crappy software advocates target.
Posted by TheMidnightCoder (61 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How True
How true, the one thing the open source and anti-microsoft crew will just never understand.
Posted by (23 comments )
Link Flag
Consumers most certainly care...
It's incorrect to assume that consumers don't
care because you don't care. You aren't a
consumer. More to the point, as long as there's
some semblance that things are working "good
enough", you could care less about the BIOS.

The "consumer" in this case consists of hardware
manufacturers and hardware support personnel.
The former have an interest in an open BIOS
because it would speed development and give more
freedom in design. The support people are
insterested because an open BIOS could aid in
developing hardware diagnostic tools, and in
tuning hardware to be more secure, fault
tolerant, or higher performance according to
their specific requirements.

As a paltry applications programmer -- you could
care less and will settle for the environment
the hardware and host environment present to
you. It's the person that deploys your software
that has to make sure the hardware is up to
snuff (and they, in turn, rely on the hardware
vendor to make it so).
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Consumer is the first to care.
Consumer running PC doesn't care.

But consumer having to spend on PC does.

Closed BIOSes and closed hardware is what ensures livehood of some hardware companies, producing some ****** hardware we have to live then with.

Have you know amount of bugs BIOS has to fix - you as customer will choose more carefully what kind of computer to buy.

And this is especially issue for notebooks - they are not that easy to upgrade or repair compared to PC coffins.

On modern systems, OS depends more and more on BIOS to perform most of the operations. Having standards for BIOS or (even better) open source BIOS will ensure that any one can port OS to given computer. (*)

Lower entry price means more companies can compete in market.

Higher competition inevitably means lower prices for customers.

Simple logical chain. Closed BIOSes in wake of DRM talks become more and more heated topic. Hopefully, asian computer producers are (seems at moment) embrasing idea of open source BIOS. They are very - more than we will ever be - tired of dependency on BIOS makers.

(*) Absence of standard probably one of the reasons why Apple doesn't want to deal with PC hardware. I can only praise both Apple and Sun who came up many years ago with OpenFirmware.org project. Intel's EFI didn't impressed me. Thou better than current nothing.
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Link Flag
I'm a consumer, I care
Speak for yourself.

I want the choice. Whether I exercise it or not is irrelevant. What I'm willing to contribute to have that choice is.
Posted by Donoho (8 comments )
Link Flag
Right on...
I'm with you (although I know not all the ways of Java, I'm a .NET guy).

As machines get more complex, they have to be more simple to be useful to the world at large. If people would stop hating on Bill Gates for a minute and listen to the guy when he says people just want stuff to work (Steve Jobs is big on this as well), the world would be a better place.

It's bad enough that today we expect computer users to have updated drivers, now you want them to have the "freedom" to screw around with their BIOS? Can you imagine the acceptance rate of everything from iPods to toasters if people could screw around with them? Two words: Support nightmare.

Stallman has drifted so far away from computer science and market reality and firmly into religion that he's totally out of touch.
Posted by Jeff Putz (302 comments )
Link Flag
?
Why do you hate freedom?
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
As much as I hate it, he's right.
The "consumer" is NOT the hardware manufacturers, becuase THEY are the ones with the access to the BIOS already. The consumers are those who buy the computers off the shelf at Bestbuy. 99% of them don't know the difference between a BIOS and a Floppy Disk much less care how they work.

I do disagree with the notion that a "closed source" model promotes competition as Intel claims. If I could take my new Dell computer and install a BIOS from HP or Gateway, THAT to me seems like more competition. The need however really isn't there. No matter how nicely tweaked a BIOS is, it is not likely to provide a gain in performance or productivity measureable by the end user.

Stallman has more "non free" software on his computer than he's willing to admit. The fact that it took him this many years to realize his BIOS was paid for is astonishing! The CPU has instructions that are "non free" even though the most common ones (referred to as the core X86 instruction set) are well published.

I don't see where he can gain any win in the free BIOS fight. If you want a free BIOS, create one and good luck getting the manufacturers to use it.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Richard Stallman is a loon.
Get a real cause Richard. Maybe protesting off shore oil drilling or something. You're not saving the world here.
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let him RE one himself
Let him RE one himself, just like good ole compaq in the old days. Then he can make it free if he wants..... Oh wait, he probably does not have the skills.
Posted by (23 comments )
Link Flag
WOW! What about the Lobor Theory of Value?
Wow! Does this debate not get more and more interesting and intriguing as the secrets underlying the PC continue to emerge. With the emphases to be apportioned to the various components, namely - RAM, ROM, NET BIOS and BIOS as in the case of the current article - along with the reference to the question of "Intellectual Property" issues... then one really needs to consider the question of the "Labor Theory of Value" as expounded by Marxists economic theoreticians - Why not "To each, according to his/her ability".
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oops! Correction: Labor not Lobor
My sincere apology. Thanks.
Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
Too all according to their needs
Sheldon opined: "Why not 'To each, according to his/her ability'."

That is a bit old school. Open Source is about "to all according to their needs, from all according to their ability."

Open Source is about community, not Redmond-style cutthroat freemarketeering.

In a sensse Open Source does have a cost--in the time needed to make use of often little documented but powerful software. But the key is that the investment builds on itself, and you know that you need not throw it all away just because some rich guy wants more of one's money.
Posted by PolarUpgrade (103 comments )
Link Flag
What about the Processor Microcode???
OH NO! You mean you don't have all of the code that is running your system? Oh MY GOD!...Get a life dude, do you realize how much embedded code their is in your chipsets and processors alone? How about you NICs embedded code or your sound chips embedded code.
It's a CIA plot dude. Make sure that you have your aluminum foil hat on at all times so they can't reprogram your mind as we all know it's definitely open source.

Fred Dunn
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great!
he is powered by new linux called Fragile Linux!
Posted by (128 comments )
Link Flag
Free BIOS = Free Citizen
A user-controllable free BIOS is more important now that we are seeing copyright law being mightily abused to control how we choose to access software and content.

All previous laws in all other areas may have outlawed certain activities, but never was the principle ever enshrined that the choice to obey or violate should itself be extinguished--until these dark days of copy locks and the DMCA.

And yet this is is exactly the way predatory corporate interests are absuing copyright, in terms of "Activation" and soon hardware-based software and content locks. This is a trend that lawmakers should stop in its tracks before it gets out of hand. Supreme Court guys, listen up -- you gotta stop this nonsense.

The first principle of a free society is that the governed consent to be governed. There can be no consent when there is no choice in so doing, as is the case with the DMCA, secret BIOS systems, and so forth.

Lawmakers need to take action soon to modify copyright and patent law to specify that no lock mechanism, whether it be software- or hardware-based, may have the effect of preventing the user from using software fully, modifying software fully, or using hardware fully, or modifying hardware fully, and that further prevents the use of license terms that control or direct the user in ways unrelated to the basic licensed use itself.
Posted by PolarUpgrade (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Chice???
You have infinite choices. 1. If you don't like don't buy it. 2. If you don't like it, build a better one. Live in a cave and paint the walls and send smoke signals.
Posted by tgrenier (256 comments )
Link Flag
Free software always has a money back guarantee
In my opinion, open-source groups are a leach on the IT industry and rarely benefit the average user.
I do not want open source BIOSes. There are enough things to troubleshoot besides having a client's 13 year old try to flash with the latest BETA bios. At least the manufacturers can be held responsible for a bad BIOS.

I think the open-sourcers will get in over their head on this one. All OSes depend on BIOS standards to operate properly and a bad BIOS can cause major problems, even if it POSTs.
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Bah...shudup!
Keep the bios the way it is. And go wash your clothes, if you dont have anything else to do!
Posted by Mark_Smith (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disneyland should be an open-park.
Disneyland should put all the rides outside the gates so they everyone can have access to them.

Oh and I want the blueprints and a wrench so I can make some changes... for the benefit of everyone.
Get Real!

If you don't like protected software, don't USE it. Make your own (of course it will be better, right) and give it away free for the benefit of us all.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I..
get your point. But you sound kind of angry about open source. Would you like to talk about it? Aw, I'm just kidding.

I happen to agree that their is no reason to force BIOS maker to open up their source. I don't think every piece of software has to be open source, but I find nothing wrong with open source.

What I do find wrong is Licencing. Open source has too many variations and a lot of closed source companies have very greedy ones. For example, Microsofts OEM licence states something to the effect that if you replace your computer (even due to it being hit by lightning) you have to buy another copy of Windows. Of course you can always licence it to your mouse, but if you replace that then you have to buy a new copy of windows. Yeah I know I am picking on Microsoft, but they just have lots of good examples. Of course with dual core procs Oracle may be the next best to pick on.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
TODAYS BIOS TOO SIMPLE.
BIOS THAT GOES BEYOND ALLOWING MYSELF TO ADJUST WHERE O/S IS LOADED FROM WOULD HELP, THEN EACH HD PLUS CD INPUT COULD DISPLAY ALL KNOW O/S LOCATED ANYWHERE ON EQUIPMENT (OR EVEN FROM NET LOCATION BY SENSING MODEM) AT FIRST STEP, SO I WOULDN'T HAVE TO RESET BIOS EVERY TIME NEW O/S WAS DESIRED. ALSO DON'T BE FOOLED, BIOS MAY BE VIRTUALIZTION DEVICE & SLIENTLY OPEN YOUR USEAGE UP TO "ANYONE", WE ALL WANT SMOOTHER MACHINE THAT DOSN'T "LOSE" STUFF, LIKE HALF PARTIONS, ETC. LET ALONE READJUSTING ITSELF TO "WORSE" SETTING, ETC. ALSO BIOS COULD USE REAL DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS, HOW TO USE THINGS LIKE F8 CORRECTLY, RIGHT ON BIOS STARTUP PAGE & BE ADDED MORE TO LATTER. WHEN FILE IS CORRUPTED ON BOOT UP, "BIOS" SHOULD RETRIEVE NEEDED FILE(S) FROM ANOTHER PARTITION FOR YOU & CORRECTLY INSTALL AUTOMATICALLY, ETC.ETC.ONLY WAY TO GET THERE IS COMPITION & LETTING THOUSANDS OF BIOS WRITERS OUT WITH BIOS MEMORY SPACE NEEDED TO CREATE SO COMPLEX BUILT-IN.SOMETHING CERTAINLY NOT OFF SELF STANDARD RIGHT NOW ON DESKTOP PC, AS FAR AS I KNOW.
SIGNED:PHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART VON DRASHEK M.D.
Posted by (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
scared of an open bios?
scared of an open bios? why?
Posted by (11 comments )
Link Flag
About Open Source, BIOS and DRM
The old dilemma of which type of software is better (free or propietary) comes to surface once again. I'll say this: commercial software is often better in some respects, such as features included. As for open source, there are a great many great applications (I use OpenOffice and I love it), and yet, MS Office has features not yet implemented in OF. However, I agree that many open source applications are still in beta stages (and remain that way for years and years). No software is perfect, be it propietary of open source. Propietary software companies abuse their power by making the user pay ridiculious amounts of money for their products so yes, that makes them evil. But open source pretends to sell "support" for their produts, also for ridiculious amounts of money, so yes, they are evil too. Richard Stallman's vision of a world running on free software will not come true (at least not during our lifetime), but I don't think open source is doomed to extinction. Many companies like IBM are embracing Linux and open source, which is proof that open source is here to stay (not that the propietary people won't try to stop them).

As for a free BIOS, I think it would be a welcome addition. Today's pre-fabricated PCs come tied to their original hardware and replacement parts can only be bought from the original PC maker. BIOSes are no different. With each new year, BIOSes include less and less configuration options, so yes, consumers are loosing control of their PCs. DRM is the industry's answer to piracy (which they think all end users are guilty of). These DRM methods which are built into hardware will soon be hacked (didn't they say at first that DVDs couldn't be copied?) and there is nothing the companies can do to stop it. They shouldn't be afraid of open source BIOS, open source has been around for 14 years or more and propietary companies haven't lost their market. If they don't allow open source BIOS to exist, and let those users who care to "hack" or modify their machines with it, they will resort to illegal means of doing so. Why not let there be an open source BIOS, and let few users who have to know-how to use it, do their thing legitimately? I don't think that whatever losses they have will be more than what they will spend in filing lawsuits against those who "hack" their precious DRM.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Buy a retail mobo
And you will find that the BIOS has tons of options, perhaps not as many as it should.

Buy a HP or Dell and you will find a gimped BIOS, and for good reason. It scares me to even think of the generic computer user having open access to bios functions, when they have a hard time just operating the computer without breaking it.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Think Windows, Linux, MS Office, OpenOffice... Is Ready? Think Again
It has been quite intellectually stimulating to have followed the debate about which software (propietary plus shared-source code or free and open-source) is preferable by individuals, governments or companies throughout the world. As for the entire lot - Windows, Linux, MS Office, OpenOffice and many other OSes and different applications one should wonder why is it that the issue of 'outsourcing" was such a political "hot potato" in the last US General Elections; also, why after all these years of information technology developments there are still so many poor people in certain parts of the world? Some simple suggestions; in the context of the earlier statement of "Disneyland should put all the rides outside the gates so they everyone can have access to them" then why not relocate a greater number of the manufactuting plants in the automotive, aircraft, petroleum... in the lesser developed countries thus allowing for a level playing field.

And, talking about "a user-controllable free BIOS being important" in enabling the porting of Operating Systems to PCs, as well a all the various functionalities and about open-source codes... Question: Why is it that IBM has not yet decided to make OS/2 Warp Open Source; additionally, how much of the remaining unknown APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for MS Office will Microsoft will be willing to share with the open-source communities. Re: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www-pam.usc.edu/volume4/v4i1a3s2.html" target="_newWindow">http://www-pam.usc.edu/volume4/v4i1a3s2.html</a> Hence the inherent computer software application "Functionalities" for Economic And Financial Assessment.
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
get a hair cut !
first tell this psycho to get a haircur and get out of his dark ages, invent fire and wheel, and then talk about software.
Posted by (128 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GNU Hardware Ltd ?
" Our goal is to escape from them."

why don't stool-man start its own pc manufacturing company aka GNU Computers, and give away free computer to everybody. like opensource, drink open source, use only gnu pcs. ha ha ha ho!.
Posted by (128 comments )
Link Flag
Do you even know who he is?
Or what he has done? He has the technical chops to write a BIOS or pretty much anything he wants.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Richard Stallman is evil!
Why is it that some people in the open-source or free software movement feel it is necessary to have all technology completely transparent and open for wide spread inspection? Why is there this widespread belief that trade secrets are some how inherently evil? I understand the desire among open-source or free software supporters to have technology freely available for modification, review and experimentation. After all most of us in technology have developed our skills by using these very techniques to learn and explore technology. However, individuals and businesses have the right to keep their creations secret or proprietary if they wish to and should not have a bunch of hippie nerds preaching about how evil they are for protecting their copyrighted or patented works. I am tired of hearing nuts like Richard Stallman getting their panties in a bunch just because Phoenix software, or hardware manufactures don't want to freely give out information on their confidential technology just so he can create an free-BIOS. If Richard Stallman doesn't like the way the hardware companies are running their business he needs to take action by buying stock and convince executives to change, taking over a hardware company or just starting one of his own. That is what makes free market capitalism so great because if you think things are being done incorrectly you can take charge and offer these technologies. The fact is he won't do this because most people don't really give crap about their BIOS unless it is preventing a piece of hardware or software from properly functioning. There just isn't the demand from the majority of users for anyone to really be interested in his nutty idea.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://russ.johnsonville.net/default.aspx?Page=Blog" target="_newWindow">http://russ.johnsonville.net/default.aspx?Page=Blog</a>
Posted by russ960 (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
He isn't asking Phoenix to open up anything
Have you ever stopped to think why there is basically one BIOS company? It is because Intel purposely hides things from everyone but Phoenix.

All he is asking for is what Intel gave to Pheonix. Enough information to write a BIOS. How is that a bad thing?
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Something to watch...
Proprietary or open-source, hardware and software technologies are simply expected to work. Proprietary products enable and serve business and consumer needs in the same way that open-source products can deliver (plus maybe some perks and stuffs allowed by the open-source movement).

With regards to open-source BIOS, I guess it is valid to be concerned about controls, standards, security and ethics. Although I am not contending that proprietary BIOSes are controlled, secured and ethical, we can assume that they are already in place -- given the amount of investment needed to develop and maintain BIOSes, businesses are likely to fund only what works and what sells.

Open-source BIOS seems to open up many possibilities beyond the limitations of the proprietary BIOSes available today. In fact, open-source BIOSes can be powerful BUT, looking forward, they call for greater responsibilities besides just developing and publishing them.

If the BIOS links software to hardware and vice versa, then opening the BIOS may introduce inventions that allow software to have greater access and control on the hardware and/or hardware to have greater access and control on the software. Sounds good... Looks dangerous...

Hopefully, implementors and users of the open-source BIOS are responsible enough to control and standardize what gets manufactured.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For those too young to remember . .
It was the reverse engineering of the IBM BIOS that opened the door to the computer revolution. Before that if you had an NEC computer, it ran on an NEC DOS and programs written for it would only work on that machine. The BIOS clones changed all that. From then on if you bought a copy of MS Word for the PC (IBM BIOS Clone) it worked on all PC's not just the one it was designed for. A truly open source BIOS would only benefit the industry.

As for "What about the Processor Microcode???" It was Intel's' opening of the code for the 4004, 8080, and 8085 that allowed them to steal the market from Fairchild, National Semiconductor, Motorola, and the rest. I learned Intel Machine code from Intel engineers who taught at the college I went to in the early 80's. All those new engineers knew Intel code and that was the processors they designed for. It was a true stroke of brilliance on the part of Intel.

Those who badmouth the free interchange of information are just a bunch of "Johnny-come-latelies" who wouldn't know a COM port from a crouton.
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Perhaps you're confused about Microcode
Microcode is the code used INSIDE a certain class of microprocessor that is used to create its ability to execute machine code. I suspect you were taught machine code, not microcode.

In any case, having access to microcode would not provide much value to anyone writing external programs and thus couldn't have anything to do with Intel's success.
Posted by skane2600 (31 comments )
Link Flag
What choice..?
Where is there a choice?

...when, the hardware will ONLY allow 'approved software' to run? ("Trusted Computing")

...when, network-routers will ONLY ALLOW 'approved computers' on the internet? ("secure" networks)

...when, the PRIMARY-PURPOSE of the computer, itself, is to CONTROL consumers? (DRM)

...when, the "closed" proprietary-BIOS is directly-linked, and CROSS-DEPENDANT upon proprietary-software? (OS-specific APIs)

...THERE IS NO CHOICE.

Nor, are we actually talking about "secrets". The fact is that, today, anyone can easily gain access to (or legally reverse-engineer) any level of the PCs-hardware, ...which is the way it should be (and why the PC-market has been so robust). ANYONE can write 'extensions' or 'software' that will run on ANY PC. But, much of the "Trusted Computing" architecture&#8217;s implementation is specifically designed to eliminate that FREEDOM.

The simple reality is that many of the technical-specifications of "Trusted Computing" primarily revolve around "DRM" and 'proprietary-solutions LOCK-IN. In other words... CONTROL (and choice of functionality) BEING IRREVOCABLY REMOVED FROM CONSUMERS/USERS.

A 'closed', inaccessible, BIOS is nothing more than an action similar to an automobile-manufacturer's 'WELDING the hood shut' (and claiming that it is for motorist's, and the independent car-mechanic's, own good).

Consumers DO care (if not about the technical-specifics, ...then they care about the direct results upon their ability to make choices) I know, I have spent years providing service, and explaining such things, to them.

And, I am telling you that, ...IF THEY HAVE A CHOICE, ...consumers ALWAYS choose to have CONTROL FOR THEMSELVES.

And, yes, I CAN write a 'device driver', a 'BIOS function', program an 'ASIC' and burn a 'ROM'. But, once the PC-hardware and the BIOS itself is 'completely locked-down', I will have no more choices available to me, than the "...average people...", to which, I provide solutions, and training.
Posted by Raife (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'd sure like to have a crack at *my* BIOS
I have a dual opteron with 4GB memory.
But I can only see / use 3.5G.
This is because the STUPID BIOS reserves the last 512MB of address space addressable in 32 bits for its own use.
You don't notice this LEGACY FEATURE if you only have say 2GB. But when I upgraded to 4GB - there it was.
Of course on a 64-bit-capable system such as mine, the BIOS should be a 64-bit program (I bet it is on Itaniums, because they can't do 32-bit, but I like the ability to do that as AMD processors offer).
Would I be up to fixing the problem? 35 years in the business of systems programming says: go slowly. Maybe I could reduce the reserved amount while staying 32-bit. Moving to 64-bit requires a development environment that I really don't have right now.
Anyway should the BIOS be open-sourced?
ABSOLUTELY
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
"OS-specific APIs" Par Excellence or Scholarly Put
Raife, I guess you have made my day.

"when, the "closed" proprietary-BIOS is directly-linked, and CROSS-DEPENDANT upon proprietary-software? (OS-specific APIs)"

also,

...when, the hardware will ONLY allow 'approved software' to run? ("Trusted Computing")

Question: Assuming that the network (banking and financial services) must safeguard "sensitive client" information... should there not be restrictions as to who will be permitted to access data on such networks. There is an old saying that goes, When in Rome do as the Romans do. Astronauts and cosmonauts must know that there are rules to be followed to ensure a successful re-entry back to earth's atmosphere when returning from outer space. I am for stamdards, control and experimentation. A good position that could be taken is to let the open-source community do what they want to do and let the who want to bring astronauts safely back to earth or protect clientele data as with ("Trusted Computing") adhere to strict standards and control.

Once again, "OS-specific APIs" make quite a lot os sense in that; and, to repeat:

Functionality, Functionality..............

Short Session on the Economic Rate of Return (ERR)

Here is an Outline.

A. Nature of the ERR - shadow prices as proxies to
opportunity costs.

B. Purpose of the ERR - economic viability

C. Methodology for arriving at the ERR

1. Financial computations (IRR) as inputs

2. Apportioning variables to shadow prices

a) theory: all inputs and outputs

b) practice: 1) important costs and
benefits; and,

2) most likely distorted items

and so on, and so on.....

D. Interpretation of the ERR

1. If ERR &gt; IRR

2. If ERR &lt; IRR

As Keith remarked "Open Source is about "to all according to their needs, from all according to their ability" That much I can discuss with the community for now. The point that I am attempting to make is this , where do people in general want to go! If it is outer space then all the resources would have to be gotten together, inclusive of at least a skilled captain; just so, in the case of arriving at an economically viable international project all the resources would be needed - computer operating system and application, along with the multi-disciplinary analytical capabilities of the particular individual/s to be involved. Just how well developed is the computer industry (Free and Open Source as well as propietary + shared-source code) to satisfy the above-mentioned functionalities. Questions: Think Windows, Linux, MS Office, OpenOffice... Are ready with the requisite "OS-specific APIs"? Think Again! Who has funded/will fund the developments? What have been/will be the important costs and benefits? Does Open Source have a cost?, and how much!
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hands off our BIOS
So I buy an HP Pavilion... which exhibits a NIC.. come to use it... NIC doesn't work. Phone HP... can't activate NIC unless BIOS programmed for it.
Can I have a firmware download... No, your series of model 8690 Mfr Yr 2000-1 was not intended to go to Corporate Network users !!! Sorree... so why does it have a NIC at all? Why can't I reprogram the BIOS ? Click.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wouldn't this render support impossible?
One of the things that makes Linux such a turnoff for the masses is its lack of "concreteness." That is to say, once someone gets their hands on it, absolutely anything can (and probably will) go wrong, with very little chance of support. I grant that most of the people who use Linux have quite a good degree of competence when it comes to the inner workings of an OS (that's my perception, anyway), but I think if I gave open source software to everyone in my family and told them to go to town, when they came to me with questions on their specific configurations, I would probably be lost in the dark.

In my opinion, one strong selling point for closed-source is the fact that it's supportable en masse. I'm not familiar with how you would support something that is so highly customizable, but perhaps someone can fill me in.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How is Linux not supportable?
No matter what distro you choose, you can get support for it. Go to a software store and pick up a copy of SuSe or Red Hat and support is pretty much what you are paying for.

If you choose to make your own alterations to the code, you obviously won't get much, except maybe in newsgroups. But, someone with no knowlege of how to change the code, is going to be doing that. They are likely going to get a retail box or buy a little support after they download, so your point is pointless.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Just re-install your BIOS
If the company could not support the system with a BIOS provided by another vendor/programmer then they would just tell the user to re-install the original manufacturers BIOS.

That's as much as double clicking an EXE.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Linux for Mom and Dad.
Users, like Mom and Dad, are computer stupid. They aren't interested in building kernels or running scripts to install software or drivers. The one thing to remember is they are barely Windows literate. Aside from running application most of them don't know how to do anything else.

I showed a man the other day how to install drivers from nVidia the other day. He download them and double clicked the icon on his desktop and followed the instruction up to the point of turning off the antivirus software. He didn't know what to do so he left his computer just like that till I got there. Now imagine him trying to install those drivers on linux. He would have never made it that far.

I really like linux and for me it's all good, but for the rest of the computer stoopud world (who by the way barley know Windows) it's just too scary. For those of us tech junkies we don't care how hard it is to make it work. We love the challenge and the reward of knowing how to do it. For the rest though they don't care about who makes it, how it's better, or why they should us it. They want simple, easy, and user friendly. Linux just isn't really there yet. I figure it will be someday, but it even took Windows and Mac time to get where they are today.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linspire...
There is some hope in Linspire (previously called Lindows) that a home user base of Linux has a chance to exist. You should try it out sometime...
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
FREE My Car!
We need free software in our cars, because if we don't control the embedded systems, we don't control the automobiles. It puts me in an ethically compromised position to have a nonfree program in my SUV.
--
Paul R - FCF President
FREE Car Foundation
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ebay...
Ebay sells cars that pre-date the computer software in your SUV. Go buy one and enjoy the freedom!
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Openfirmware anyone?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.openfirmware.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.openfirmware.org/</a>

Has been around for a while and is used by Sun, Apple and
Motorola for their various architectures.
Posted by digantasaha (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free My Toaster
We need free software in our Toaster, because if we don't control the embedded systems, we don't control the Toaster. It puts me in an ethically compromised position($ex) to have a nonfree program in my Toaster.
--
Dick Asss - FTF President
Free Toaster Foundation
Posted by (128 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The BIOS...
could be protected by something as simple as a software/hardware "switch". Then the makers could include a waiver saying, "Flip the switch at your own risk!" That way, the newbies are protected, the hackers (or wannabes) are happy, and the crackers are basically F****d.

As for the "give it all away for free" and "workers of the world unite" speaches, I'll just reserve my right to DNR. Now, if you'll all excuse me, I've got some work to do--using Evil Excel and Wicked Word.

-JDM
Posted by culture_of_one (68 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry...
that should've been "speeches"...I forgot to use my Satanic Spellchecker. ;)

-JDM
Posted by culture_of_one (68 comments )
Link Flag
 

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