June 1, 2004 12:52 PM PDT
Intel to open code for booting up PCs, servers
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Under the collaboration, Intel will release a driver development kit and what it calls firmware foundation code later this year under the open-source Common Public License.
The code comes from Intel's Tiano project, which aims to replace the BIOS (basic input-output system) software that takes an inventory of the hardware in or attached to a computer and allows the hardware to speak to the operating system and ultimately to the applications.
BIOS is one of the oldest elements of a PC and one of the most resistant to change. Most BIOSes are written in older languages and are sold to PC makers as a single block of code, said Mike Richmond, manager of platform software at Intel. Hardware makers have to write BIOS-compatible drivers to ensure that their products will be able to communicate with the PC and other devices.
By opening up the code, hardware makers will be able to more efficiently write their drivers as well as anticipate any changes in the input-output system, Richmond said. Additionally, Intel's firmware foundation code will be written in the C programming language.
"The visibility is what gives people confidence to use it," he said. "The BIOS has been in the PC from day one, and it has always been a monolithic piece of code."
Overall, the new code and Tiano will also speed boot-up time. In servers, Tiano-based machines boot up in about one-third the time required by servers equipped with traditional BIOSes, Richmond said. American Megatrends and Insyde Software sell boot-up software based on Tiano.
Tiano implements the Extensible Firmware Interface, an industry standard, and is officially called the Intel Platform for Innovation Framework for EFI. Intel adamantly declines to call Tiano a BIOS, but it performs the same function.
Open-source programmers have been working on a similar project, LinuxBIOS, which replaces a computer's standard BIOS software with a small version based on Linux.
Problems with proprietary BIOS programs have hampered efforts to build Linux support for the Advanced Configuration Power Interface, which is necessary for actions such as putting a laptop into hibernation modes.
Although primarily a hardware manufacturer, Intel is increasingly writing software code as a way to speed up the computer design process and make PCs more uniform. The company employs about 5,000 software engineers (out of nearly 80,000 employees) and is hiring software engineers at a faster rate than other types of engineers.
Recently, a software and services group was calved out of the server organization.
But don't count on Intel to mix it up with Microsoft or Adobe Systems. Most of the software the company develops is geared toward improving the basic performance of silicon and consists of things like drivers or compilers.
Still, the software effort could come to have an impact on the industry, because it cuts out the need for independent engineering. Tiano took 200 years of employee time to develop, according to Intel.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.