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Microsoft Hardware

Microsoft Taking Over the BIOS 989

Posted by michael
from the bios-ain't-done-till-linux-won't-run dept.
dtjohnson writes "According to this story, Microsoft has entered into an agreement with BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies to integrate the BIOS with Windows. This has the potential to turn PCs into Windows-only machines and also could result in widespread incorporation of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology into new PCs. It looks like Microsoft is beginning to flex their marketplace monopoly muscles again, after taking a couple of years off."
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Microsoft Taking Over the BIOS

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  • Looks like we need to start checking to be sure our next motherboard's flash can be reprogrammed with LinuxBIOS [linuxbios.org].
  • Except (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:41PM (#7128669)
    Apple did it without the established market share to back it up. I see this as potentially the most divisive move in computing in the past 10 years. I think a lot of tech savvy folks who run windows (like myself) will switch to Linux in this sort of environment. I have the know-how to do it, I'm just lazy. You teabaggers.
  • by FreeLinux (555387) on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:42PM (#7128672)
    Now, I will not even require an OS in order to contract and spread viruses and worms.

    It's only a matter of time before Microsoft's superior technology inovators develop a compression algorythm that will allow them to stuff all of Windows XP/2003 into the BIOS chip. Then they will really have a lock on the PC industry.
  • Remove the chip (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RedHat_Linux_Man (692702) on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:42PM (#7128682) Journal
    Remove the chip and get a new one if you want dual booting or linux. There has to be a hack to overwrite the BIOS mem. I am no chip expert by far, but is it really possible for them to entirely by hardware mechanisms to make it windows only?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:42PM (#7128683)
    Somehow, when Apple has a far more monopolitistic marriage of the software and hardware of one company, it is considered good. But if Microsoft does it, it is bad. I think it has something to do with Gates' dorky glasses. Something superficial, anyway.

    There's be hell to pay if M$ forced you to buy M$ hardware in order to run its software. But Apple can do it, but why not, their cases look so cool.
  • Here we go (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TerryAtWork (598364) <research@aceretail.com> on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:43PM (#7128687)
    Bill and the big boys are taking back our boxes and the Internet they let slip away from them.

    They'll tell us they are doing it for our own good and their motto will be 'The Internet is too important for amateurs'

  • by the_webmaestro (570338) on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:44PM (#7128704)
    Damn... Now we're going to be opened up to get viruses that attack BIOS!
  • by rossz (67331) <ogre&geekbiker,net> on Friday October 03, 2003 @05:49PM (#7128763) Homepage Journal
    With any other company I would hold off before passing judgement. However, Microsoft's long history of abuses makes it only natural to assume they WILL implement a windows-only BIOS. I'll take this one step further. Expect a future version of Windows to REQUIRE this BIOS, giving Microsoft an even tighter lock on the market.
  • Some thoughts... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jugalator (259273) on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:03PM (#7128910) Journal
    "The BIOS would also allow better control of unauthorised devices connected to a system, Microsoft said."

    Why is a protection against "unauthorized devices" suddenly necessary on BIOS-level? Has anyone even been victim of a device that should really have been "unauthorized" (whatever that means in this case) that has been connected to a PC? It sounds like they're talking about hardware, and that's what's puzzling me. Are Microsoft telling us that future devices might be set as "unauthorized" because they don't fulfill Microsoft's demands and standards for an authorized device, or what?

    Are Microsoft's customers saying "we should be able to protect ourself against unauthorized hardware" (I'm not hearing anyone), or are Microsoft just trying to shove a new feature down their throats because they need it for their plans?

    "Phoenix's Core System Software (CSS) is a next-generation BIOS with a more sophisticated integration of operating system and hardware, for example making it easier for system administrators to remotely monitor the hardware configurations of their systems."

    As with all computer software, complexity increases the chance of bugs and often also security exploits. How can Microsoft and Phoenix assure these "enhancements" to the BIOS don't do this? They can't? Well, then we might have an interesting future with really messy exploits ahead (with potential for viruses to gain direct hardware access and control), and also BIOS crashes due to the added complexity.
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:29PM (#7129110) Journal
    I think it's still too early to tell if this is a good or a bad thing. It all depends on how its implemented.

    If Microsoft uses it to let companies build "Windows only" PCs or to enforce their form of DRM, then I suspect most I.T. managers and staff will realize it's *NOT* a good thing.
    (Even if I work for a company that runs all Windows products on the desktop today, that doesn't mean I'd prefer products that don't let me have any other alternatives.) As computers age, they tend to become good candidates for alternate OS's - even in environments using strictly Windows on the user desktops. (If you're not going to elminiate your current crop of dated Pentium 1 and 2 systems, for example, they still make good Linux web servers or print servers. They also make good pseudo thin clients running the Citrix ICA connector. (You can still do that even under plain old MS-DOS, with some limitations, and serve Windows 2000 or XP desktops to an old 486.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:38PM (#7129167)
    OpenFirmware.
  • by LesPaul75 (571752) on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:41PM (#7129189) Journal
    Here it is!

    F000:E05B call check_for_linux
    F000:E061 jc do_error_beep_and_halt
    F000:E063 nop
    F000:E064 nop
    F000:E065 nop
    F000:E066 int 19
    All kidding aside... I write BIOS code for a living, and this scares the crap out of me. What Microsoft wants is to basically eliminate the BIOS, except for the jump to the OS code (the "int 19" above). Windows already does just about everything that we do in the BIOS, like PCI device enumeration, etc...

    No doubt, this would make Microsoft's life a lot more simple, but I think it would give them too much control -- way too much. DRM would just be the start of it.

    I wonder what the EFI proponents (Intel) think about this deal...
  • by GutBomb (541585) on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:47PM (#7129247) Homepage
    they don't BLOCK the booting of OS 9. The ability to boot OS 9 was holding back the hardware development so they scrapped that ability. It's not like they said "ok, let's fuck the users of new machines that wish to use OS 9". they just thought that better hardware was more important than backwards compatibility with an obsolete operating system
  • by VortexVertigo (541172) on Friday October 03, 2003 @06:52PM (#7129284)
    Perhaps they are just acquiring BIOS code to integrate into their devices and embedded OS? Maybe we will see MS Media Center devices that lack a typical bios chip?
  • Come on, guys.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PetiePooo (606423) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:03PM (#7129375)
    If Windows can run faster and have better control over the hardware with this BIOS, then Linux can as well.

    Come on, guys.. this is Slashdot! Are you forgetting that a very large pool of very bright individuals read this forum? Phoenix will release the specs for this new BIOS, the kernel hackers will develop a patch to support it, and before you know it, the same benefits that Windows O/Ss gain from it will be found in Linux as well. Minus the DRM, of course.. although I wouldn't be surprised to see that as a patch either.

    If MS can benefit from this, so can Linux. The only way that wouldn't be true is if the specs are not public, or are licensed under a RAND license that precludes OSS participation and nobody wants to foot the bill on our behalf. Or if Phoenix tries a DMCA ploy of some sort. I can't picture them charging a license fee for using it when they can more easily enforce an outright fee for the supporting MB installation. Even so, I wouldn't be surprised to see it reverse engineered. Look at WinModems and their rise of functionality under Linux..

    ---
    er.. um.. excuse me. I meant GNU/Linux.
  • Re:Come on, guys.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tony (765) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:10PM (#7129401) Journal
    Look at WinModems and their rise of functionality under Linux..

    Excellent example. Look how long it took Linux to provide even rudimentary support for WinModems. There are still patent issues surrounding WinModem drivers. If even one part of this deal includes patented "technology," Linux will be locked out.

    This *is* a dire issue, one that will require intense scrutiny. MS desires complete control of everyone's computing; this is clear both from statements made in the past, and actions leading into the future. If there isn't active and vigorous opposition, they will get everything they want.

    At the moment, they are looking at methods of locking Linux out. In the past, they have tried hidden, proprietary software, marketting, and outright lies (which is, I guess, marketting); as this hasn't been too successful, they *will* try to lock Linux out using legal means. (That is, patents.)
  • by NanoGator (522640) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:14PM (#7129425) Homepage Journal
    "So...do you want to play games which happen to run under Windows, or do you really really want to run Windows?"

    Yes.

    ".for my purposes Windows is completely a throw away OS which I won't even give a second thought about reinstalling if it starts acting up (ala blue screens...etc)"

    I don't have the stability problems you problem imagine I'm having. I'm a 3D Artist. My computer has to be stable. It has to run in dual monitor mode. I have to be able to buy hardware from the store and get it up and running quickly. These are not things that Linux cannot do, but it is bonehead simple in Windows to get it all running. I do lots of rendering. I can't afford to lose time on a render. Niether Windows 2000 nor Lightwave has let me down. I don't come back on Monday to find that the render died on Saturday.

    "Since I wouldn't run Windows if my games ran under linux, I wouldn't say I want to use Windows...I instead want to play my games and Windows happens to be the only vehicle that will allow me to do that."

    Yes, you would say that. However, I have not found that Linux is quite there for me. Though it has become more attractive in recent months. I honestly feel I'll be running on it in 2004 or 2005. I'm not a Windows zealot, but I'm not going to switch to Linux just to flip off Microsoft.
  • by Bruha (412869) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:22PM (#7129465) Homepage Journal
    "Microsoft said integration should mean simpler and more reliable computers."

    I cant believe in the face of every virus MS has been responsible for spreading or allowing to spread due to crappy code they think a BIOS with MS system calls in it wont be a problem.

    I can see the next ms.blaster worm that wipes your bios requireing you to replace the ROM.
  • by TheCrazyFinn (539383) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:30PM (#7129507) Homepage
    Actually the OS9 restriction is at the OS Level. Apple simply didn't write a new System Enabler for the latest revision of their core chipsets. without that, OS 9 can't boot on the new Hardware.

    This was done to forcibly EOL OS 9.2.2
  • by Meshach (578918) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:32PM (#7129517)
    This really does not seem like a big deal to me (except the possibility of DRM which in itself seems remote). It reminds me of Winmodems: a piece of hardware made to work with and only with windows. They have been around for a long time. There are alternatives and those of us who support other companies besides ms can voice are dissent by purchasing these alternative products.

    We don't need to run around yelling that the sky is falling for every little thing ms does
  • What about servers? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by javacowboy (222023) on Friday October 03, 2003 @07:44PM (#7129572)
    I doubt that IBM, Dell, HP as well as many fortune 500 companies that run Linux on the server would allow this to happen.

    Of course, none of these companies probably gives a damn if Microsoft maintains control over the desktop.
  • wont hurt Dell (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228) on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:11PM (#7129688) Homepage
    Dell does their own Bios.
  • "DRM Free" logo (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:20PM (#7129725)
    Some user rights organization (e.g. EFF) needs to come up with a "DRM Free" certification program for systems, motherboards and other hardware to assure potential buyers, and a nice big logo to go with it (and you know they love logos in Taiwan... no translation required!) That way the consumer can vote with their dollars and put an end to this nonsense... if even 10% of hardware sold is DRM Free (and I'm guessing at least 25% wouldn't buy otherwise) Microsoft & friends can never require DRM features as a prerequisite for installation.
  • by bogie (31020) on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:36PM (#7129798) Journal
    Well wouldn't you if you had just spent $6k on a TV that's not compatable anymore?

    That's why I won't be buying into HDTV anytime soon.

    HDTV and the legislation that needlessly forced it onto an uninterested public is the biggest scam in the past 25 years. All of those companies are "advised" our government on HDTV 20 years ago are a bunch of criminals. Of course nobody goes to jail for white-collar crime. Download an MP3 on the other hand...
  • Re:wont hurt Dell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaschei (701750) on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:39PM (#7129813)
    That's one of the problems with this: Microsoft might make their operating systems only work with their proprietary, disruptive, copywrite-protecting BIOS. I can only imagine that backlashing, as an operating system that DOESN'T monitor all the files you save (probably macintosh, but quite a few linux!) would appeal to everyone. My stance is: they have the right to do this, and they have the ability to do this, but the marketplace, if enlightened to the dangers, won't allow them to succeed with it. Aka "optimism" or "stupidity," depending on your mood.
  • history and Compaq (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:46PM (#7129843) Journal
    This seems to be taking us back to the days when IBM had a proprietary bios.

    In fact, it was Compaq Ahh ... here's the story [oldcomputers.net]

    • The Compaq Portable was the first 100% compatible IBM computer clone. Why make an IBM clone? Because the IBM PC was extremely popular, and taken very seriously by businesses looking for a computer system.

      Problem: Compaq couldn't just copy IBM's BIOS to make their new machine guaranteed IBM compatible, this would be illegal, and easily proven by IBM.

      Solution: Reverse-engineer IBM's BIOS. Compaq used two sets of programmers, one group who had access to IBM's source code and another who knew nothing about it. The first group closely looked at the original code, and made notes of exactly what it did. The second group took these notes, and wrote their own BIOS that performed exactly the same. After one year and a million dollars, they were successfull. They had a legal BIOS identical in operation to that of the IBM computer.

    In any case, you would think Bill would remember this [pbs.org]. He was around. Unless he's getting daft.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:48PM (#7129849)
    As if most people know what a BIOS is, much less what brand is in their computer. You need to read this [amazon.com] about Pearl Harbor.
  • by IM6100 (692796) <elben@mentar.org> on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:57PM (#7129892)
    But to the hardware vendors, having a hard-wired way of differentiating 'workstations' from 'servers' could be a real gold mine. Traditionally, there are many 'server' tasks at sites that get filled by the secretary's old desktop machine.

    There's even something of a precedent for using the BIOS to partition machines into different market segments. I once bought a surplus Alpha motherboard that was really cheap at the time, intending to run Linux or NetBSD on it. When it arrived, I found that it had only the crippled BIOS capable of loading Windows NT, and that it was going to be a complicated kludge to get anything else to run. I found someone in Australia who had paid money for DEC's SDK, necessary to recode the BIOS to run a Freenix, but he wasn't willing to share it. So that $150 motherboard, minus the $100 more I would have had to spend to enable it to run a Freenix, became dead hardware to me. And yes, I looked in DEC's catalogue. Back when the motherboard was 'current' hardware they were selling the same exact motherboard with the bios to run Windows NT for a low price, and with the bios to run Digital UNIX for a HELL of a lot more.
  • by MarcQuadra (129430) * on Friday October 03, 2003 @08:58PM (#7129893)
    It's going to have to be much sooner than that to replace the PC BIOS with something more modern. There's really only so much you can do with an 8-bit BIOS (which is what we have now, right?). The BIOS should be somewhere you can check RAM and Disk integrity, set up TFTP sessions, simple boot scripts, and get a list of what's actually connected to the computer to pass to the kernel.

    OpenFirmware is absolutely INCREDIBLE, and if more companies were on-board it would get even better. On a Macintosh (O.F.) you just hold 'option' at boot and you get a menu of all bootable drives connected to the machine, be they FireWire, IDE, SCSI, or USB (actually USB is disabled out of sanity). You can get a device list even better than most Operating Systems can provide from OF.

    All that has to happen is a small system to give OF a GUI for general-purpose stuff that he BIOS handles now, like editing the time and some options. Also it would be nice to have extension APIs for disk checking and basic kernel argument-passing.

    LinuxBIOS isn't what you think it is, it's just a way to bypass the normal BIOS to pull a kernel off the network, it's not structurally capable of 'taking over' because it was designed from the beginning as a 'means to an end' for clustering. It has far LESS functionality than a typical BIOS, and the development lag time makes it infeasible for a mass switchover.

    We really need to make sure that the 64-bit motherboard manufacurers start using OpenFirmware, it's the perfect opportunity to facilitate a switch to a more modern and sane BIOS. If Microsoft gets involved we're SURE to see major problems and serous bloat on the board.
  • RANT... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qtp (461286) on Friday October 03, 2003 @10:14PM (#7130282) Journal
    do NOT fool yourself into thinking DRM was purely some kind of evil scheme to Get Your Money.

    I agree that it did not start there, but it has rapidly become obvious that it now is more about getting all of the money (yours, mine, everyone elses).

    Regional encoding does not stop piracy, neither does encrypting DVDs. People just copy them with the encryption entact and they play on your regular DVD player. The "regional" thing is about wanting to control who sells DVD decryption tech along with the players, and about controlling who was allowed to sell players where.

    I expect the RIAA wishes they had thought of that one, imagine a studio owned software company recieving fat royalty checks for every CD player sold. As DRM becomes more ubiquitous, expect to see that and other ncorporate market controls coming down the pike.

    And you can also expect the studio owned (AOL) and software vendor owned (MSN) attempt dropping non-DRM content from thier networks as well. Corporate censorship for the web, in the name of protecting the artists, writers and musicians. If it's not DRM, it must be copyright infringing!

    So Well use encryption accross the network to avoid this.

    BUT NO! You must be a terrorist! If you don't have anything to hide, why are you hiding it? Only drug dealers and terrorist need to use encryption if they're not law enforcement, corpoations, and intelligence agents, but that's OK, because they are the GOOD GUYS looking out for your saftey, the ecconomy, and the "American Way of Life". "Patriot Act III", DMCA-II, all brought to you by the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and Microsoft. Keeping America safe for Americans. (I hope you fit their definition.)

    [/RANT]

    In all seriousness, if a large company can profit from DRM, or a government can control or monitor a population by use of DRM, by manipulating the markets (and content) in the software, communications, media, film, music, and publishing industries with this, then they will eventually attempt it.

    At least in America (and many other countries), the outcome is somewhat dependant on the public's acceptance of this and the perception of a need for it.

    We can always hope.

  • by John Sokol (109591) on Friday October 03, 2003 @11:25PM (#7130562) Homepage Journal
    The Apple Power PC openboot firmware( The equivalent to a BIOS in that world ) is derived from the Sun OS boot prom. This searches for Java drivers and other thing to run during boot time.

    I'm sure this is far more open, understandable and practical compaired to anything Microsoft is proposing.

    Also with DRM built in I'm sure it's not going to be open since there only security they can offer is obfuscation.
  • by seismic (91160) on Friday October 03, 2003 @11:27PM (#7130567)
    Microsoft board room meeting:

    Presenter: "We're going to sell a PC. But we can't really let people do what they want with it. We need to protect it. With a bios! Ya we'll protect it with a bios!"

    Bill: "What are we going to call it?"

    Presenter: "Well we need a symbol.. that represents not being able to do what you want."

    Bill: "X?"

    Presenter: "Yes! And another symbol that suggests it already does what you probably need it to do."

    Bill: "XBox?"
  • Reply (Score:2, Interesting)

    by synonymous (707504) on Saturday October 04, 2003 @12:11AM (#7130745)
    What? only shell gas will fit into my car..? Well, i'll show them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 04, 2003 @12:16AM (#7130765)
    I can still install and boot NT4 on a new machine (yes, it works). I've dual booted BeOS and many flavors of Linux on my Windows boxes. All the while, Apple (due to "technical reasons") restricts through restriction or omission what you can boot on their machines.

    Might MS do this horrible thing? Sure. But they've been rumored to do it for years now, in one form or another, and they haven't done it. But Apple has been doing precisely this for years now. It's all in the name of "progress," I know, restricting what you can boot on their new machines. Don't let that stop you from crapping all over MS for finally moving into an area where they can exercise almost 50% of the control that Apple does over a machine. Maybe 60% if you count the mouse. ;)
  • by gothicpoet (694573) on Saturday October 04, 2003 @01:26AM (#7130968) Homepage Journal
    Except if the BIOS being part of Windows is deemed to be a means of securing Windows and/or encrypted, does that not then put it under the wings of the DMCA?

    And thus illegal to reverse engineer?

    Yeah, it's like IBM all over again... except that this time the law says that no one could reverse engineer a way out of the monopoly lock-in!

  • Send 'em an email (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 1s44c (552956) on Saturday October 04, 2003 @03:18AM (#7131273)
    If we all send Phoenix an email they might get the message that a lot of people don't want this.

    The lazy can cut and paste the one below and send it to custsupport@phoenix.com

    The less lazy might want to change a few words or write their own email.

    ---

    Customer support,

    I don't believe your recent deal with microsoft is going to work out
    in the interests of your customers.

    Microsoft aim to make it harder to use other operating systems on the same
    hardware as theirs. They are using their existing monopoly in operating systems to produce a monopoly in BIOS software. As alternative operating systems become more widespread your new BIOS will be less competitive in the marketplace.

    This deal will also cause your customers to become suspicious of your motives and less inclined to choose your BIOS where others can be used.

    Personally I don't intend to buy motherboards with your BIOS, or recommend that any of the companies I work for do until this deal is cancelled. It is important to me that hardware I buy is general purpose and can run linux or FreeBSD as well as windows.

    Regards,

    -Your Name-
  • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Saturday October 04, 2003 @03:43AM (#7131322) Journal
    The only reason Microsoft hasn't done stuff like this is because somebody has taken the time to raise public awareness about what freedoms we were about to lose.

    No, Microsoft has regularly ignored PR issues WRT to making decisions (at least once it has committed to a decision).

    Believe me, the execs at Microsoft (note: not engineers there) care very little about what Slashdot has to say. Slashdot is full of after-the-fact complaining and rumors, and is constantly full of "sky-is-falling" stories. The few that I actually have inside knowledge on have let me realize that Slashdot is a wildly alarmist publication. Generally, people submitting stories have a political agenda, and want to get people upset about something -- and providing misconceptions is an effective way to do something.

    Slashdot is fun to read, but it's not a Microsoft leash.

    Things where there are *wildly* overblown claims and theories include: United States governmental repression, TCPA, Palladium, most stories on corporate business relationships with either SCO or Microsoft, Gentoo, and Apple products. Articles like these should be treated about the same way you'd treat something from the National Enquirer or the Young Republicans -- with a very, very large block of salt.
  • by plumby (179557) on Saturday October 04, 2003 @04:20AM (#7131388)
    The market put them there, so I don't give a flying fuck

    Oh yes. The *free* market. Do you ever consider that they may have used anti-competitive means to consolidate their position in the market? Does this not bother you? Are you not concerned that they might be using their size to unfairly trample the opposition?

    The previous poster's question wasn't really the one that needs answering. It's not how much power that they have, but how much abuse of that power are you prepared to put up with before deciding to act?

Programmers do it bit by bit.

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