OpenBIOS

In my previous post I’ve waxed lyrical about IEEE 1275 standard, also known as Open Firmware.

Comrades in the field pointed me towards OpenBIOS project, a GPL licensed implentation of Open Firmware. Currently, it seems like it is almost useful by mere mortals, as long as mere mortals have supported motherboard, and want to boot up Linux 2.2 or newer on it.

Sadly, average consumer doesn’t look for a “JTAG header” on a feature list, while shopping for a new motherboard, nor is he particularly interested in a socketed BIOS flash chip (which also would allow one to re-flash BIOS). Average users (those mythical beasts) also probably don’t have the experise on hand on how to use JTAG if they flashed in a broken OpenBIOS image, and ended up up the creek without the paddle.

I’ll take Open Firmware (and Open BIOS) over EFI any time of the day, because EFI is essentially a black box controlled by Intel, and without vendor consent end user doesn’t really control his PC (for a close to home example see recent efforts to get Windows XP running on x86 based Macintosh systems, that ended up with Apple releasing EFI extention implementing PC BIOS compatibility as part of Boot Camp package). My fear is that hardware is essentially just another black box, and without vendor consent, implementing free BIOS replacement is nearly impossible. That is, supporting hardware ends up being a process of reverse engineering hardware, which is not simple, and which few people want to do for free.

I hate to sound like Richard Stallman, but with EFI locking one’s PC functionality away at the BIOS level, and with recent trend of OS kernels running only signed kernel modules (Microsoft claims that admin will still be able to load unsigned drivers in Vista, but anyone willing to bet that this functionality will get depreciated, and eventually removed?), are you really in control of your computer?

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