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A Web Browser in Your BIOS? 199

Posted by timothy
from the smart-dumb-smart-dumb-terminal dept.
Anonymous Coward points to this article on xbitlabs.com, which begins "At the recently held Computex show in Taipei Phoenix Technology Company introduced its new FirstBIOS based on Linux. Among the major advantages of this product, they mentioned such things as PC wake from different standby modes and integrated means of rapid PC recovery in case of failure." That's not all, though -- the article goes on to say that "the most remarkable thing is that you will be able to get access to Internet directly from this interface either via the traditional modem or local network. In this case the data will be stored in NTFS, FAT32 and ext2 file systems. According to Phoenix, all these features fit into 16Mbit Flash memory."
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A Web Browser in Your BIOS?

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  • Bloat (Score:2, Insightful)

    Is it just me, or are BIOS images getting more and more bloated?

    I use a Macintosh. While earlier Macs had all sorts of nonsense in ROM (car crash noises, colour photographs, and god knows what else besides) recent machines have almost nothing.

    Technologies change - indeed the web is moving at a fair rate too. Imagine if this web browser in the BIOS only supported HTML 1.0.
    • What do you care how big the bloat in the BIOS is? It doesn't affect performance as much as software bloat.

      While outdated technology is something that sucks, imagine having TCP/IP protocols burned into the ROM. That would be useful for everyone.

      For a general purpose machine, there is certainly a limit to how much crap you want to hardwire into the machine itself, but wouldn't an array of common protocols and functionality that are necessary across the breadth of modern operating systems be nice to have?
      • Re:BIOS bloat (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yeah , useful for everyone until a hole is found in the TCP stack in ROM and you either have to
        flash a new image or even worse have to physically
        change the chip.
    • It's not just you -- I just upgraded my dad to a 1.6 GHz P4 using the Asus P4B266 [asus.com] mobo, and it has pre-recorded voice messages for various POST errors, as well as the ability to substitute your own logo on the boot screen.
    • Here we go again: the Yopi PDA of BIOSes.

      The OS vendors will ignore all the embedded functionality, because they have it all implemented in the code, very flexible and optimized. If someone has forgotten, the very first thing every modern PC O/S does is ignoring most of the BIOS.

      So ok, what a great idea - to have a web browser and a TCP stack in the BIOS. One question though - why?!?!?! I don't care, I've got O/S for this. I can hardly imgaine myself botting the PC into the OS-less mode to browse the net. So far their only use case for this model is the OS-less BIOS upgrade. But who cares? Does it sound like toomuch work, to go to the BIOS manufacturer (or even better, to the computer vendor's) website and to download the damn thing? It's hardly more than one floppy in size!

      Yet another pathetic case of a totally useless product with all kinds of "kewl" buzzwords attached...

    • Re:Bloat (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locutus (9039)
      It appears that they are targetting information appliances and other "embedded" uses for computers. I see this as being the first mainstream use of making the "dumb box" alot smarter.

      I'm already running a network-aware Linux box off of a floppy (no HD), have Linux on my PDA, and Linux on 3 IOpeners, among other places. With something like aptget (or whatever that network installation feature of Debian is called) one could have a bootable machine and have it dynamically get "features" on demain.

      The BIOS is already flashable today so it looks like tomorrow we'll have a much smarter box BEFORE that proprietary OS from Redmond gets booted.

      Something like this could open the publics eyes as to how small and powerful Linux can be. Where do YOU want to go TOMORROW? ;)

      LoB
    • Interestingly, one of the older Performas (500-something, iirc) had a copy of a very old version of the MacOS in ROM, so if things were totally hosed, the user could be told to hold down a series of keys and the system would boot off the ROM disk. That's the sort of thing I can see being extremely useful, and would support wholeheartedly. When all else is wrong, being able to boot into a limited place where you can run your diagnostic programs without having any drives mounted seems like an ideal situation.
      • Mac Classic had that - Splat-Alt-X-A or some such. I know the Splat, X, and A are right, the other one might be Shift. Boots you into MacOS 6. Pretty crude but very, very handy for quick and dirty system repairs. What would have been handier is if they'd put the disk repair utilities on there too...
  • Need? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cstrommen (254974)
    Can anybody tell me what the point of this would be? Accessing the Internet from your BIOS sounds cool, but I really can't see the point of doing so.. Isn't this why we have OS'?
    • well, it sounds like a move towards having a huge chunk of the OS on chip would speed many everyday things up a lot... this would of cause require an OS that could utilize the "open a connection to this or that host" BIOS command. The idea is basically the same as that of CISC processors.

      Aside from this noble idea this is most likely just a publicity stunt and have no real value to anybody.

    • Re:Need? (maybe) (Score:3, Interesting)

      by frovingslosh (582462)
      It does seem more like a gimic than anything that would be useful in day to day operation. I can see one use though. More than once I've be installing an OS (Microsoft - what do you want to reinstall today) and suddenly found that I needed information on a hard drive, or an updated driver, or some other information that I wanted to get from the web. In my case I fire up the old P166 and reslove things with it, but the ability to get to the web while resolving problems could be handy for many.
  • What a great idea! At last you can get those pesky modem drivers without actually having the drivers themselves needed to make the modem work.
  • can you say.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by r00tarded (553054) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:26AM (#3707513)
    scope creep? wtf does my BIOS need a friggin web browser? sheesh!
  • Oh great... now the script kiddies will be able to remotely hack all the way down to my bios!

    Brings new meaning to the term owned.
  • poor MS (Score:3, Funny)

    by sysrequest (325177) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:30AM (#3707525) Homepage
    We are complaining about computers being bundled with MS Windows. If this turns into a standard bios, because of it's cool features etc., I wonder how Microsoft feels not being able to get rid of Linux without destroying the BIOS.

    Furthermore, if the BIOS has web browsing capabilities, and maybe even e-mailing capabilities, it may be the perfect [BI]OS for some people. There may not be a need for yet another OS to run on top of it.

    But yea, a bit bloated for being "just" a BIOS, isn't it? As long as it's rock solid it shouldn't matter though.
    • I wonder how Microsoft feels not being able to get rid of Linux without destroying the BIOS.

      Luckily for Microsoft their home-user operating systems come with support for the CIH virus - automated, self-replicating Linux removal on the hoof.

    • This is really just one step closer to what the Linux-IOpener projects were doing. Only on mainstream systems.

      The IOpener had a 16MB Flash/Sandisk on it and by loading Linux (http://jailbait.sourceforge.net) on it you had Linux booting without a harddisk(kinda).

      Think about it, the BIOS gets left behind rather quickly with todays OS's. IBM, Compaq, etc needed to put special keyboard buttons to get around Microsofts license requirments. With THIS BIOS, they could have alot easier time of adding features. It's Linux after all.

      How many times have you booted you home PC just to get email or surf for a little while? By brother got sick of the waste and bought a DalasSemi Tini computer(fits on a SIM card) and now he put's his Palm IIIxe on the cradle and get's email.

      As it was mentioned, soon most home uses won't have to even boot their harddisk based OS.

      There's another ~1G of diskspace free..... :)

      LoB
    • Well, now M$ will have someone to sue...
  • Bloat? or not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz (69912) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:31AM (#3707527) Homepage
    The article is pretty basic, it doesn't say web browser, it just says internet access.

    I think it is probaly a bit of bloat, but it would be nice to flash your bios, or maybe download drivers without using the OS at all.

    Start the computer into BIOS mode, it dials in, grabs the new image or whatever you need, and can install it. Could also be nice to get recovery tools for your broken OS install.
    • Yes, sound smore like it has built in FTP (e.g. to install Linux directly from the network). 16MBit is only 2 MB, so if it has a browser it'll be pretty basic.
    • Re:Bloat? or not (Score:3, Informative)

      by hbackert (45117)

      The webpage of FirstView Connect 2.0 [phoenix.com] clearly states that it includes a browser, with Flash and Java and JavaScript.

      And about the modem and recovery thingy: I hope it includes a LAN connection with PPPoE/DHCP/fixed IP addresses. Otherwise I would have problems to connect to anywhere.

      Of course, if it's more an information appliance, then typically a ISP will hand yout those, and it will be adopted to the ISPs networking standards.

    • Start the computer into BIOS mode, it dials in, grabs the new image or whatever you need, and can install it
      "it dials in"... How 1990s !
    • Start the computer into BIOS mode, it dials in, grabs the new image or whatever you need, and can install it.

      I remember dialing in. I remember all types of connectivity problems.

      Sounds like fun during a bios flash. I hope they include things like MD5 checksums.

    • Re:Bloat? or not (Score:2, Interesting)

      by PacoTaco (577292)
      Instead of trying to jam everything into the BIOS, a better approach would be to have a "backup OS" available in flash memory on the motherboard. You could have a hotkey that selects the backup OS bootstrap from the POST screen (press F5 to boot, etc). The flash device could then appear as a SCSI or IDE (or whatever) disk, which would allow quite a bit of flexibility for restoring, fixing or upgrading the "primary" OS on the hard disk. HP and such could put their diagnostic utilities there; savvy end users could install Leenooks or whatever; and LAN administrators could install software to automatically reload the primary OS from a network share if the end user screws everything up. Depending on the size of the flash device, it could also be a great place to put the entire factory default OS image. That way OEM tech support can say, "Just press F5, then select the 'Restore Computer' option."
  • To name this BIOS of a PC is a bit far fetched. The term embedded OS with browser capabilities seems to fit much better. From the web page of them it seems to be more a "Net appliance" thing. Maybe it can boot another OS, but that seems to be optional. After all, if you can browse the web with Flash/Java/JavaScript, what else do many people need?

    So this small "BIOS" might have a market in small devices, so you can skip the HDD completely and still have something useable. Nothing any other embeddedable OS cannot do (Linux, WindowsCE, QNX, you name it).

    • Doesn't BIOS stand for Basic Input Output System? A network (corporate intranet, Internet, etc) today is arguably a Basic means of I/O. I assume it will be even moreso in the future.

      I can invision buying a pc at Wal*Mart with no OS installed, getting home, plugging in, turning it on... it connects to a website where I'm asked what OS I want to install. Or better yet, what OS I want to run remotely *for this session*. All or most of my data is stored in a high security SAN somewhere and by its nature, is editable equally by any competitors application. I can choose to save things locally if I want. It would be my choice.

      Maybe we just need to expand our definition and understand that we don't need to limit Basic I/O to local peripherals any more.

      Can we fully utilize (or visualize) it's potential now? Maybe not, but this one of many baby steps to the standard PC in the future. I don't think they really expect you to do your daily browsing with this thing. It's the bigger picture.

  • Not a bad idea... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sodergren (15567) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:34AM (#3707538)
    I kind of like this idea.
    If a useful browser/email client were included
    in flash, the computer would be instantly useful without installation of any O/S. Maybe this is what some people need- just pick up a cheap PC to use as a browser, no need for a HD, etc.

    This could also be useful for initial net-based O/S installation or download. Having basic tools
    available in ROM could ease a lot of tasks- include a browser, an FTP client, a telnet client, and disk partitioning/formatting software, for example.

    In a way, this brings back ideas from old personal computers. Old machines often had BASIC in ROM- you could use the machine with no storage and no preload of software.

    • This could also be useful for initial net-based O/S installation or download. Having basic tools
      available in ROM could ease a lot of tasks- include a browser, an FTP client, a telnet client, and disk partitioning/formatting software, for example.


      Most big-name server vendors have a way to set up a utility partition on the HD and the server BIOS can boot from it withouth the OS having anything to do with it. It'd be great to have the equivilent of a rescue system in BIOs that could be used to salvage a damaged disk-based system.
      • Re:Not a bad idea... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by slntnsnty (90352)
        Except that most big-name server vendors utiliy partitions are a proprietary nightmare that often cause more problems than they are worth.

        If you don't believe me buy a new computer fdisk the hard drive remove all partitions completely reformat drive with no Vendor junk on it and then see how much faster your computer runs.

        Of course that is not entirely caused by the utility partition, but it still causes other problems... Especially if you need to copy drive, etc.
        • I wasn't endorsing the actual usability of the vendor utility partitions, just the idea of an OS-independent, bootable image seperate from the mass storage of the computer.

          I had one time where I was able to utilize the vendor boot partition -- a needed bios update on a machine 4000 miles away done via a dialup connection to the box's remote management card -- and even that was a fluke because like you I usually delete them!
    • Take a look at what was done for putting Linux on the IOpener. It had a 16MB Sandisk (looked like ide0) so you booted from FLASH. Very useful with web-email or IMAP. Since the power button just suspended the machine, you only lost your RAM(browser bookmarks,etc) when you unplugged the device.

      JAILBAIT for the Netpliance IOpener [sourceforge.net]

      LoB

  • Good vs Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chill (34294) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:35AM (#3707540) Journal
    A mini-OS on a chip, where have I seen that before? (Amiga Kickstart?)

    While the modularity and flexibility of certain OSes make for lovely exhibits of creativity, this makes me wonder.

    The article mentioned Java and Flash abilities, also. Can you imagine a remote root exploit in your Internet-connected BIOS?

    How about a nice Flash/Java app that embeds SMTP commands to turn your BIOS into a high-speed spam machine?

    My crystal ball shows an ever-brightening future for Internet security consultants.

    • Check out their QNX-Nuetrino Demo Floppy [qnx.com] it has a POSIX complient realtime OS, with their Photon GUI (elegant in the extreme compared to X), a full file system, Networking, their Voyager web Browser, & dial up networking (with wider CHAP/PAP logon script support than BeOS &) or Network card/cable modem support, all on a bootable floppy drive. This OS system on a floppy also by default dynamically supports at least Intel, SIS, ALI & VIA chipsets & S3, Intel, 3df/x, ATI, Nvidia, SIS 'n Trident graphics out of the box too.

      • And the license cost for all of that from QNX would be far more than Phoenix can get awwy with charging even for such a rich BIOS.

        Economics matter, and QNX has never really grasped that, which is why despite the elegance and power of their architecture and code, they are still a mere curiosity and a non-starter in the market. (I know, I used to work in set-top box architecture - QNX offered great capabilities, but we never even seriously considered them, because they made it quite clear that they expected license fees that would have scuttled the economic viability of the entire product. Sad.)
    • Considering all the other bugs and deficiencies I've observed in Phoenix BIOSs over the years, it would surprise me at all if the, um, creativity you speculate upon would indeed come to pass.

    • To quote a famous industry leader, "You have no security anyway. Get over it."

      Seriously, this is probably far more secure than the way things are done today. I would love to have this now, if for no other reason than because it would make getting new drivers a breeze when doing the semi-annual Windows re-install.

      Besides, outside a small percentage of geeks, any security that requires any user attention at all simply isn't going to get done. If you're worried about security, perhaps you shouldn't be using Linux at all (unless it's the NSA's SELinux), but should look at something like OpenBSD instead.
  • ntfs support (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    They mention that data can be stored in NTFS...has the linux ntfs driver write support progressed beyond "extremely dangerous"?

    nice feature but i didnt think the drivers were there yet ..
    • I believe they were referring to the NETWORK storage and were most likely using SAMBA in the BIOS.

      I had to read it twice myself.

      LoB
  • by peterdaly (123554) <{petedaly} {at} {ix.netcom.com}> on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:43AM (#3707562)
    While the whole idea sounds interesting, I have security concerns. Remember the ping of death, and other exploits like that? Image the "fun" script kiddies could have once an exploit is found. I hope this device includes support for scheduled automated bios upgrades to patch any bugs that are found.

    People seem to be saying "this isn't a web browser, it is internet access." Well, add some RAM, mount a NFS partition off some server somewhere, and up can pop Mozilla, Nutscrape, Opera, etc. This is the core making of a set top box, or true network appliance. Don't just think web browser. Think small efficient MP3 player, email client. I am sure you smart Slashdotters can think of many more possibilities. Slap on a chip that doesn't need a fan, and a small fanless ac/dc converter, and you have a zero-moving part, zero-noise system.

    This could change the way we think about network appliances, and Network Computers.

    -Pete
    • If you are going to do all that, you can just do it with current technology and boot roms. I have several totally diskless stations that boot from PXELinux (from the syslinux people), and have NFS root volumes.
    • Ya, otherwise known as a PDA.
      • > Ya, otherwise known as a PDA.
        >
        Or better known as an IOpener Net Appliance

        You should have seen my 2 friends faces when I showed them my $99 IOpener (running JAILBAIT Linux). They had spent $1500 each for PC's running Windows to get email and to surf the web. Even at $400, a Net Appliance is all most families need.

        OK, throw one fullblown PC in there as a file server and now Jr and Jr-ette get cheap appliances instead of massively expensive and support intensive Windows based PC's. They could pay for it with lemonaide stand money for cry'n out loud. ;)

        LoB
  • This reminds me of the phoenix.net [google.com] crap that came on EPoX and other motherboards about two years ago that force-installed some "helpful" utilities that an objective eye would consider spyware upon detecting a Windows installation. Thankfully, at least EPoX removed it, but this looks like an attempt to reincarnate the idea. I wouldn't trust them.
  • BIOS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DennyK (308810) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @10:50AM (#3707575)
    Although this might technically be called a BIOS, it certainly doesn't sound like something intended for a traditional PC. Looks more like Phoenix is after the embedded devices market...

    Phoenix FirstView Connect software delivers an easy-to-implement, low cost/high value architecture that supports Internet TV, interactive screen phones, game consoles, customizable set-top devices, handheld appliances, and more.

    This has really useful applications for small, specialized devices...it could turn just about anything into a Web-capable appliance. It would be kind of pointless on a full-fledged PC, however.

    If it was implemented on a PC, it would probably end up a very annoying big brother of PhoenixNet. *shudder* Just imagine having to sit through ten minutes of downloading and playing Flash-based advertisements every time you booted your new DellPaq... ;-)

    DennyK
    • > DellPaq... ;-)

      hehe. That's a good one. Funny how the food chain is going. DEC goes head first into bed with Microsoft and then gets swallowed by Compaq as it's marketshare withers. HP gets a rash when they start hopping in bed with Microsoft but luckily they fall out quick enough to survive. But Compaq can't hold off the infection introduced by DEC's intercourse with Microsoft and they get swallowed by HP....

      Dell would be better off waiting to see if the infection is ravaging enough to take HP down before getting too close. Though Dell did grow up with the MS disease and my be immune though the MS virii has now gone flesh-eating. Well Dell survive that? Their recent Linux deals show they are evolving/generating anti-bodies..... ;)

      LoB
  • by DuBBs2ooo (137256)
    I'd like something new to play with and this fits the bill and sounds neat, but what is the market for this, seriously, I'd like to know who would use this, I can see in a "thin-client" accessing Application Servers over a LAN/WAN, but outside of that sort of realm, what is the market?

  • It would be cool if it had just enough to start a network install of a few Linux distro's -- the same stuff that's usually on the floppy of the distro.

    There have been many times where I've wished I could just plug in a new computer to cable or adsl, and just start a network install.
    • There have been many times where I've wished I could just plug in a new computer to cable or adsl, and just start a network install.

      Look into PXE. You can do this today with any PXE boot rom capable network cards.
  • Man, this sucks! It doesn't even have OpenOffice.org installed! And where is GNOME? It doesn't mention plaing MP3s and watching DivX movies, either.
  • The last time I thought about Phoenix BIOS and networking was when I had to deal with the bios installing network marketing icons to the desktop of Win machines I was configuring for work.

    After the incident with PhoenixNet [cexx.org], I decided never to buy a phoenix bios again.

    I can see this one reporting marketing data back to the mothership bigtime. No thanks.
  • Lynx is very nice (Score:3, Informative)

    by jhines (82154) <john@jhines.org> on Saturday June 15, 2002 @11:09AM (#3707616) Homepage
    Putting Lynx, in the bios would be nice, it could manage all the features in the BIOS, and support FTP and HTTP installs over the net.

    The ability of the BSD's to be installed via a pair of floppies, and a net connect is a very handy feature.
  • My sparc 1 thats now 13 years old has a bios that has network access and forth. It lets me boot remotely or write programs to reprogram the cmos after the battery dies.
  • The lowest (and supporting) levels of anything should be simple and robust. This gives the higher levels something to build on. This principle applies to computers as well as buildings,

    To me, the function of a BIOS is to hide the gory details of the hardware from the OS, and to help the OS bootstrap. Above all else, BIOS must function. Performance and complex functions are secondary. The BIOS needs to live long enough to check for hardware, and tell the OS what's available.

    These guys aren't building BIOS anymore. They are building an embedded OS. I'm not sure if we want an embedded OS just for starting the real OS. What ever happened to "Keep It Simple S-tpid!"

    If my machine needs an update that badly, let me do it with a floppy (another simple device) and a standard (not USB!) keyboard. This is more secure, more robust, and performs the function needed.

    This concept sucks. I want firmware for my hardware, not an embedded OS as well.
    • The stone and chisel worked great and was simple. Should we still be using it? Remember this is not Windows and the Linux kernel can be trimmed down pretty small. This is just a small step up for the BIOS but a large step in functionality. It's also a large step up for OEM's.

      This reminds me of the often heard phrase in TV cop shows: "Step away for the windows!"

      LoB
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why, within year we might be able to boot from a network server! Or copy software from a network server! They could call it "TFTP"!
  • by 4of12 (97621) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @11:20AM (#3707651) Homepage Journal

    There are plenty of advantages and drawbacks to something like this.

    I like the quick power on and no need for long bootup wait and the potential for diskless operation. Ideal for consumer electronic applications like PVRs.

    As others have mentioned, the complexity of the BIOS now means it's harder to secure against network exploits. How about reducing the network functionality down to a minimum? BUt, at the same time, it would be nice to have standard network functionality to replace all these different internal communication busses.

    Imagine if the HD were communicating via IP to other internal components. It would be interesting if my PC were nothing but a mini LAn of components that could be just more networked devices. And if I could make a NAS down the hall look really local and not through SMB or NFS.

    The networking built into the X windowing system would be small potatotes compared to having everything be a networked device: video card, mouse, keyboard, harddisk, CD, etc. This new BIOS seems like an important step if something like that is ever to happen.

    • Actually, everything inside a computer is a mini-network, just with different protocols.

      There is a reason they made all those protocols as well: Effeciency.

      TCP/IP, IPX, and so on, are very high level and bloated compared to the simpler and to-the-point protocols used in inter-device communication.

      Everything is optimized for the hardware.

      The LAN/WAN protocols are optimized for long distance less-reliable transfers.

      -- Tino Didriksen
    • Firewire is very close to accomplishing what you mention above. It doesn't have quite the following yet, but is quite capable.
  • It seems to be alot like Linux In A Box, http://www.liab.dk . Except LIAB is actually a small computer, not just the bios.

    I guess you could use them for really small firewalls :-)

    • It seems to be alot like Linux In A Box, http://www.liab.dk . Except LIAB is actually a small computer, not just the bios.

      I guess you could use them for really small firewalls :-)


      We actually use a liab box to monitor the status of our washing machines (a small laundry shared by 450 apartments), so all the teneants can see whether the machines are available.
      Nifty stuff.
  • or are you just happen to see me.
  • This doesn't sound all that different from what OpenFirmware (used by Suns and Macs) has done for years.

    Nice to see Intel boxes finally catching up with the 1990s.
    • I like OpenFirmware, but it has some drawbacks. I've only used it on older Sun and Apple systems, though. The most recent system was a rev 2 Blue & White G3, which used OF 3.x, if I remember correctly.

      It's difficult to explain exactly how powerful OF is when you're talking to someone who has never seen anything but a Phoenix/Award or AMI PC BIOS. OF isn't a setup program that has three or four menus, where you can set your system to boot up from floppy or CDROM. OF gives you access to your computer's internals through a FORTH interpreter. When I was trying to set the boot device for my B&W G3, I did the following:

      --O-F
      This enters OF on a Mac, if I remember correctly.

      > dev / ls
      This displays all the devices on your PCI bus (or busses) in a tree. I looked for the identifier for the Adaptec 2940U2B PCI SCSI controller. I found it under in the tree as something similar to "/PCI/Bus 0/Slot 1/ADPT2940U2B".

      > set default-boot 'ADPT2940U2B@0:2,:tbxi'
      This set the default boot device to the Adaptec 2940U2B PCI SCSI controller, SCSI device ID 0, partition 2.

      > bye
      This exits the OF FORTH interpreter.

      This was just to set the default boot device. You can imagine how much more complex the non-trivial settings are. You can also probably imagine how powerful OF is.

      Still, I sort of like what DEC did with the AlphaBIOS and SRM console on the old Alpha servers and workstations. I highly recommend getting a cheap Alpha workstation off ebay. It's way more fun than a PDA, and probably more useful, too.

      Once you've played with a Mac or UNIX workstation, going back to the PC BIOS is kind of frustrating. However, there is a lot to be said of the latest Award BIOS. It sure is easy to use. Not exactly what I'd call powerful or feature-rich, but it's a hell of a lot easier to set the default boot device.
      • by Elbereth (58257)
        Umm, that should be "(command)-(option)-O-F" to enter OpenFirmware on a Mac. I shouldn't have used brackets. Oh well.

        Stupid Slashdot making me wait two minutes to post again... sometimes I wonder why I bother.
  • So I took the definition from everything2 [everything2.com]
    "An acronym for 'Basic Input/Output System.' In standard Intel personal computers, a ROM program
    responsible for controlling low-level access to system devices. In most modern operating systems,
    the BIOS is used mostly to perform the POST and then boot the operating system."


    And this doesn't seem to meet the definition of BASIC. I'd like to nominate XIOS, for eXtreme (or maybe eXtended) Input/Output System, because we don't have nearly enough acronyms that start with X.
  • What I'd really LOVE to see is an option in the BIOS to export screenshots (or just plaintext) of all of your settings. It's a bugger to go back and forth between this and the OS, trying to remember your settings...especially when you're building a system for a non-technical relative living in another state...otherwise it's a endless game of "What do you see on the screen now?" questions...

    I did find a silly work-around to this problem, though. I used a digital camera to capture [kypsoft.com] these settings, only problem is it's way too time consuming! :)

  • Isn't this inherently insecure?
    • Isn't this inherently insecure?

      Any network OS connected to a network is inherently insecure! The only sure-fire way to secure it is to unplug it from the network. Better yet, unplug it from its power source.
  • This isnt a PC BIOS folks. It's intended as an BIOS/OS for web enabled devices.

    From the website:
    Phoenix FirstView Connect software delivers an easy-to-implement, low cost/ high value architecture that supports Internet TV, interactive screen phones, game consoles, customizable set-top devices, handheld appliances, and more

    Of course, the neat part about it is that it is based on linux and all fits on a 16MB flash memory...maybe someone can create a family of web enabled devices where you carry your flash memory card to the device, slide it in and run the device with your personal prefs taken from the card.
  • Internet access from the bios would cover 95% of my computer use (at home anyway). I wouldnt need to load an OS!
  • BIOS stuff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spunkykuma (574480)
    Is it just me or is this just really pointless? I don't see any real reason why a BIOS would do any good with this feature. There are some neat BIOS utilities like MSI's LiveBIOS and FuzzyLogic that maintains and upgrades the BIOS over the net from the OS- though it sounds like a useful tool, I wouldn't touch with a 150 mile pole just yet and I still prefer the old fashioned boot from floppy and flash the bios image off the HDD. I think the LinuxBIOS is a cool project, hopefully it can become of some use, I have a busted Slot1 mobo with a bad BIOS that needs an EEPROM burn, I'd like to see if I can get LinuxBIOS on it one day.
    • It's not pointless at all. THe ability to turn on a machine, blind, and have it quit functional (debug memory, rudamentary programming, scannign for new devices, etc) is highly useful.

      Look at Sun.. they've been doing it, well, forever.

      The BIOS stuff we have now is basically useless.

  • Judging this new feature, do you think one day a whole OS will put placed in a FlashBIOS - so there will be no HardDisk etc~

    Hehe, I am waiting for that day~~
    • That's what computers used to do. How do you think your Commodore 64 or your Apple 2 booted? You got it.. straight out of ROM.

      And they didn't have a BIOS.

      BIOS is like a simple API.. a standard set of interrupts & calls that somewhat abstract the hardware beneath. It's pretty trivial. It's also not required if the OS can support the hardware directly.

  • Physical security (Score:2, Insightful)

    by panurge (573432)
    I would be happier about this idea if we could have a physical motherboard switch (brought out to the panel) that had to be held on manually to enable flashing the BIOS. The ability to change the BIOS by programming is a security vulnerability that can only get bigger as BIOS functionality increases. Yet it could be prevented by a simple single pole momentary switch.
  • I think this could be a great idea for system recovery. If your OS is crippled and you need to download something off of the 'net to rectify it you could boot to your BIOS to download the said things or repiar whatever it is on the partition containing your OS. It be like kind of having a built in recovery disk with net access.
  • Haven't any of you seen the QNX demo floppy: Kernel, GUI, Graphical Webbrowser, Java VM, and Network or Modem drivers all on a floppy. QNX can also run on BIOSless machines I'm pretty sure, and can easily run from flash memory. So, what's the big deal with someone putting this stuff into a web-appliance machine when it's already been done?
    • Like Columbus' discovery of the new world, it's not news because it's first, it's news because it signals the beginning of commercialization of the concept.

      The appearance of such a BIOS product on the market, especially when driven by an industry leader like Phoenix, may well change what's possible on bare metal. That's a very good thing, and a welcome return to computers that boot into a useful and usable state, like all old pre-PC computers (Apples, Commodores, TRS-80s, etc.) used to do. (Actually, the original IBM PCs (and early clones) had a socket for an optional BASIC ROM, since IBM realized most existing PC users expected the computer to be useful for something (even programming) at power-on. I've still got an old Xerox 1500 PC-clone with it's extra sockets filled with a BASIC ROM and the much-desired 8087 math coprocessor, which really sped up VisiCalc...)

      In a few years, this may well be viewed as one of the most important announcements in the history of the PC. It literally has the potential to change everything. This is a big deal. Good job, Phoenix.
  • The cool thing about this is that it SHOULD be able to be used to boot as a thin client to an X server. Even if the HD crashes, it wouldn't stop a user from being able to do some work.
  • solid state (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    --I think it's a slick idea. What would be cool would be a 99$ internet surfing machine, all the OS and webrowser, etc contained on a chip, have some industry standard CHEAP ram like pc 133 ram, connected to a cheap lcd screen. Sort of a barebones laptop, ready to rock out the door.

    Believe it or nutz, there are MILLIONS of people who just want to surf web pages and do email, they could care less about home networks and running the latest 4 dimensional childish video gore games, etc, and for them, a really cheap and functional machine like that would sell like hotcakes. Sort of an advanced webtv dealie, but zip moving parts, no floppy or cd drive, no hard drive, all solid state. Plug it in with an adapter so it's either 12 volt car-ish or 110, and the phone line. Done. Perhaps based on something really secure like a hardened linux or bsd OS. And ya, if it screws up or gets owned, a replaceable snap in chip to "fix" it, again, a mass produced chip.
  • by xtord (74034)
    Why would I want to surf the web from my BIOS?
    That's like having an engine placed on a bike, oh.. they did that already and called it a motorcycle ..

  • More info.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 7-Vodka (195504) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @03:23PM (#3708513) Journal
    I don't see why no one pointed out the Linux Bios Project (http://www.acl.lanl.gov/linuxbios/).

    They seem to be going along fine and that's probably where this 'firstbios' originated.

    Check them out, they can boot your machine so fast your HD's don't have time to spin up.

    • There's no reason to assume that Phoenix' FirstBIOS is in any way related to LANL's Linux BIOS project you point out. There have been several such Linux-based BIOs efforts, the first of which was, I believe, San Mehat's Linux BIOS for the Corel Netwinder. (I'm not sure whare San is these days - he was at VA Research, but now that they're out of the Linux biz, I suppose he's moved on somewhere else - perhaps he went to work for Phoenix?)
  • Open Firmware (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dadragon (177695)
    While this Linux in the BIOS thing is good for embedded systems, I still think there should be Open Firmware in an Intel PC. Think of it, the ability to load ELF files directly from the firmware...
  • by isdnip (49656) on Saturday June 15, 2002 @05:13PM (#3708884)
    This is such classic Slashdot... the O.P. sees the Phoenix name, assumes BIOS, and posts a story to that effect. Lots of comments are based on the same idea, though nobody bothers to click through to the original link.

    FirstView Connect 2.0 is not a PC BIOS. It's listed as being for "information appliances" and other semi-computers, like set top boxes. For them, where a hard disk is unusual, a powerful ROM is a good developers' tool. Many developers like the Linux environment, so it's attractive to them. Some of these are a lot like miniature PCs; for instance, the PC/104 form factor is a hand-sized stackable card with an ISA bus, often used for compact embedded systems (it usually costs more than a full-sized motherboard). But FirstView is not aimed at generic PC motherboards.

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