Thursday, February 14, 2008

Linux-Based PC BIOS - No more "unbootable" Computers?

I just read about what could be one of the greatest advancements in PC technology in ages - having your computer's BIOS be able to still run applications if your main operating system is corrupt, unbootable, not yet installed, or otherwise not usable. This has awesome implications - no more "dead" (well, not completely dead) computers when Windows fails to run or whatever.

One of the most frustrating things currently with a PC that is experiencing software issues rendering it essentially useless is that, often times, the software you may need to fix the problem resides as a patch on a website from which you would like to download it, but you can't get to the website because your computer is currently inoperable. It's that lovely catch-22 - can't fix your computer because your computer is broken! Now, imagine being to able to still run a browser and contact the internet for a patch or such even when your operating system has failed. It's about time!

And, California-based Phoenix Technologies, whose name is rather synonymous with PC BIOS functionality, is the company that plans to finally deliver this feature to us over the coming years. Their new BIOS will run Linux apps when Windows fails. Essentially, they plan to embed a Linux-based bypass system that will allow users to run some productivity applications even when the main OS fails. Basically, the embedded Linux OS will accompany the core system firmware or BIOS, allowing instant-on applications to be run from it whenever you need to do so.

The bottom line: regardless of the what state Microsoft Windows (or whatever operating system you have on your PC) is in, some software will be able to run including the ultra-important Web browser and some tools that can help you read files and documents on your otherwise unreachable hard drive. In a way, it will offer the benefits of a Linux Live CD/DVD (which I have blogged about here on a few occasions) right from the embedded BIOS. Embedded Linux BIOS... has a nice ring to it!

I am VERY excited about this technology, presuming it becomes reality and I eventually benefit from it. The promise of being able to essentially access a "virtual machine" that is running in the background (Phoenix plans to actually implement their new BIOS using their HyperCore virtualization platform) at ANY time (before boot up of your regular OS, during your normal OS's boot up sequence and/or operation, and even after shutdown) which will let you run essential software to fix problems (mainly) is quite wonderful!

In fact, Phoenix goes as far as to suggest using this virtualized system to perhaps even do things like web-browsing while your normal OS is "offline" for maintenance or such. So, instead of waiting 2 hours for the latest round of Microsoft Windows Updates to complete before you can do anything with your computer, both that operation and your concurrent web-surfing (via BIOS-Based Linux OS) could occur. That is surely welcome!

Currently, Phoenix is talking about including functionality for using this BIOS-based OS to perform: e-mail functions, Web browsing, media playing, IP soft phone (wouldn't that be nice if you didn't lose your IP-phone just because your computer was down!), as well as some remote system maintenance and repair functions plus embedded security.

Quite cool!
I really hope this becomes reality soon!

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