Microsoft moves to integrate Windows with BIOS

Microsoft moves to integrate Windows with BIOS

Summary: A deal with BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies would allow the operating system to directly control hardware. It also raises concerns over who controls the software in PCs

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Microsoft has expanded its relationship with BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies in a deal designed to more closely integrate the basic building blocks of the PC with the Windows operating system.

The relationship, announced this week, is designed to make PCs simpler and more reliable, the companies said. The move is likely to put consumer rights advocates on their guard, however, since both Microsoft and Phoenix are involved in plans to integrate digital rights management (DRM) technology at the operating system and hardware level. DRM is designed to give copyright owners more control over how users make use of software and content, but has been criticised as eroding consumer rights.

A BIOS, or basic input/output system, is the software that ties the operating system to a PC's hardware. Traditionally, it has carried out basic tasks such as hardware and system configuration, and has been standardised and simple enough to allow the installation of alternative operating systems, including Linux.

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. CSS is designed for non-PC systems such as blade servers and embedded industrial devices as well as traditional desktops.

Microsoft said integration should mean simpler and more reliable computers. "This is a pivotal change for the industry, and it will rapidly advance serviceability, deployment, and management for servers, mobile devices, and desktops," said Microsoft general manager of Windows hardware Tom Phillips, in a statement. "Effectively, Phoenix is creating an entirely new category of system software."

Microsoft said the next-generation BIOS would allow future versions of Windows to manage server blades when they are connected to a system, without needing to be turned on. The BIOS would also allow better control of unauthorised devices connected to a system, Microsoft said.

Phoenix is one of the biggest BIOS providers, its customers including four of the top five PC manufacturers. Its products are also used by consumer electronics makers such as Pioneer, Matsushita, Sony and Toshiba.

Both Microsoft and Phoenix are currently arguing for closer integration of Windows with PC hardware, and DRM integrated throughout. Microsoft is planning to tie Windows DRM features to the hardware platform via its controversial Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) project, formerly known as Palladium. NGSCB is associated with the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, which is due in about two years' time.

Phoenix recently said it is touting round a BIOS with built-in DRM technology to major PC manufacturers. In September the company said it had developed a prototype of its Core Management Engine (CME) including DRM from Orbid. The DRM technology would allow content providers to identify which PCs and devices were authorised to play particular files, more effectively controlling content distribution, file-trading and moving software from one machine to another, according to Phoenix.

Phoenix said the DRM-enabled CME was not part of Microsoft's NGSCB, but that the technology was complementary. The CME would allow PC makers to embed digital rights management directly into the hardware, though they would have the option of allowing users to turn it off.

Consumer electronics makers are particularly interested in the technology, according to Phoenix.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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112 comments
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  • Bull. To put it mildly. Anyone with half a brain (and NOT in BIOS) will realize that it represents a golden opportunity to lock users into the Windows Longhorn OS and lock OUT Linux. Or anything else Microsoftwants to kill.
    anonymous
  • Microsoft's plan to integrate the operating system with the BIOS must fail for certain reasons:

    1. Microsoft will extend its monopoly into hardware from its dominance in software.
    2. It will limit consumer choice as to what OS and programs the computer hardware can run.
    3. Other people/organizations (the copyright holders) will be able to decide what consumers can or can't play and use in their computer. And they can charge exorbitant fees and royalties in the process.
    4. It will spell the doom of other BIOS makers who don't go with the Microsoft bandwagon, because of Microsoft's dominance of the PC OS market.
    5. Linux and open source software as we know it will be extinct, as it will get hemmed in by the Phoenix/Microsoft marriage.

    Let's all fight this threat !!
    anonymous
  • OH, GREAT.

    Soon we'll have viruses infecting not only our OS and office suite, but also the computer BIOS.

    Thanks Microsoft!
    anonymous
  • Can't they keep their hands off of anything? I've got a bad feeling about this.
    anonymous
  • Ok..it takes A LOT to scare me. This scares me.
    anonymous
  • They are trying to rule the wold but will fail. Most businesses are not renewing PCs as often as they used to, still stuck with old BIOS and old OS. This will give them even more incentive to delay. Also, there are other manufacturers of BIOS, and even somewhere an open-source BIOS (which at the moment needs a minimal hardware BIOS to boot, but could easily be made standalone.

    The only thing which will prevent free and open solutions is if motherboard chipset info is not available. After all, the BIOS is TINY compared to Linux, or BSD, or the Gimp, or any of the many other pieces of good open-source software. Remember that the code to handle most features of most chipsets is already available freely under at least GPL and BSD licences, as Linux and *BSD effectively implement BIOS functionality in the kernel (so, gross simplification, hardware interactions can be preemptively multiasked and be 32 or even 64 bit like everything else). They only need the hardware boot loader.

    If the chipset manufacturers supply details to M$ but not anyone else, I think they would be liable to legal action in any civilised country. In any case, could M$ control EVERY Taiwanese motherboard manufacturer?

    But, the fact that Bill wants us all to run updated X-Boxes (because that is effectively what they will be) is quite depressing, it shows that he has even less competence than I imagined, and the fact that he is going for a totalitarian monopoly shows that he has no morals either. I almost feel sorry for the guy, little technical competence and a greed he can't satisfy, probably a more extreme form of megalomania than Hitler or Saddam.
    anonymous
  • Gatezooks Batman!

    Can Bill be stealing another Apple idea?
    Apple has been doing this for years...decades even.
    Nobody complained then.

    Aah!, but this is Microsoft here,... and yes they will take over the desktop and lock in users and deny access to other viable operating systems and conquer the earth.

    Boy am I glad I have Macs! I wouldn't want to be a lame PC user and get hosed by the coming storm.

    And I'm really glad that my PC does not have a Phoenix BIOS...Whew! that was close, I thought I would have to ditch my Linux box!
    anonymous
  • Phoenix is only one of the many global organsations working to extend the facilities brought by the BIOS. Extensive work is even being done on replacing the BIOS itself. The Intel promoted replacement, (currently heavily critisized by a few), coming in the form of the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) which is a lot more flamboyant than the BIOS is an adequate example. So there will always be options on the market.

    The market itself has considerable power that is leveraged in its choices. It can choose to adopt and also promote any technology - on both hardware and software levels- or it can choose to reject it.

    When it comes to the wire, it is the end user (the buyer) that will make the final decision as to whether they will accept a loss of freedoms or not. It is the market's power of choice that Microsoft is playing with. And this is a time when the market itself is beginning to be more aware of the options it has. Pretty dangerous.

    At this point in time, when we see Microsoft's chief Linux strategist, Martin Taylor, warning partners not to be seduced by the higher margin service opportunities offered by commercial Linux platforms, and with the US populace beginning to be more aware of the losses of their privacy post sept 11th, one finds great amusement in watching Microsoft play Russian Roulette before a multiplying Linux that has nothing to loose.

    Then there is also the current international backlash against the domination of the global software industry by US corporations - with such concerns being propelled by trust considerations.

    Market passions are indeed very expensive things to play with at any point in time. Watching the backlash against Microsoft is going to be an amusing thing to see.

    Does anyone remember PanAm or Adnan Kashogi.
    anonymous
  • An attempt to squelch Linux? Hm... They're not scared of the competition, are they?
    anonymous
  • just boycot any mobo with that bios.. that takes care of that..
    anonymous
  • This article is about to get posted on slashdot, hang on to your servers.
    anonymous
  • "The BIOS would also allow better control of unauthorised devices connected to a system, Microsoft said."

    Unlike viruses and worms that slip past Microsoft's Barndoor Security(tm) model, any DEVICES connected to my system are probably MINE. I want my operating system to shut up and accect them.

    My guess is Microsoft is hoping our (USA's) loopy, anti-consumer government will pass DMCA-like legislation to require DRM -- thus giving them a legal stranglehold on the desktop.
    anonymous
  • Wow, that's the last Phoenix bios I buy, shame too, I've been a long time Phoenix customer. Look for those Phoenix-Phree stickers the next time you buy a mainboard or computer. Phoenix's lack of vision will be their undoing.

    -craiger
    anonymous
  • Good news!

    Microsoft is trying to take over yet another technology. I'm sure we won't have to worry about new virus problems, NOT! The truth is that Microsoft has never bothered to design an operating system that was secure and not prone to virus problems, after all they have Symantec and other companies to bail them out of these design problems.

    The real good news is that savvy IT people will start looking for alternatives to Pheonix. There are some interesting open source BIOS project already out there. With even bad luck we will be able to out business both Microsoft and Pheonix.

    The future is not Micro$oft
    anonymous
  • As Michel Levesque said, Apple has been doing this for years, in fact it is one of the main challenges for anyone trying to clone a Macintosh. I feel a PC BIOS that is more open to OS integration could find some favour in the consumer segment if clear benefits are seen but if it introduces lock in it will have a harder time being adopted in the server segment where manufacturers must support multiple OS's. In the consumer space because Linux is yet to move significant volumes I think lock in will be less of an issue for the average Joe, since he is only considering Mac or Windows for his computer.
    anonymous
  • someone need to shurdown Microsoft.

    I hope some groups of people with good lawyers will sue M$ for all of their money.

    bill gate need to shutdown his bussiness.

    he wrecks shit in this world :/

    my svchost.exe still crashes even i have already installed patches.
    anonymous
  • The anti-MS sentiments here are pathetic... Microsoft is a business, they make decisions and deals in an attempt to boost market share and profit. All companies do it. As someone else here said, Apple have been doing it for decades - in fact they don't only tie you to a BIOS, but to the hardware and software. Isn't anyone going to moan about them too?

    It's fairly obvious other BIOS's are available. If you don't want to use Phoenix, don't. Use something else. Buy a different mobo. Stop using your PC altogether. Whatever - you DO have options, so there is no logical reason to shoot down Microsoft for a business decision they have made.

    (FYI, posted on a Mac, I just give credit where credit is due, and Microsoft often isn't given that credit when due.)
    anonymous
  • I flat out refuse to buy a motherboard with a Windows Integrated Bios. Keep the BIOS away from the OS and don't screw it up cause not all of us choose windows.
    anonymous
  • Uhhhh ....it
    anonymous
  • might want to spell authorized as authorized and not authorised.
    anonymous