Developers Bridge the Gap

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-01-13 Print this article Print

Developers have bridged the gab between EFI-based PCs and BIOS-based operating systems by creating software commonly known as a compatibility support module. That module will allow Windows XP and other BIOS-driven OSes to load on EFI PCs, firmware makers say.
The module "is a piece of software that encapsulates legacy [BIOS] interfaces…and then runs as an application inside the EFI software," said Robert Wise, vice president of product marketing at Phoenix Technologies Ltd., a firmware maker in Milpitas, Calif.
Phoenix and others, including Insyde Technology Inc., are offering the so-called compatibility modules to their computer maker customers. Those companies can choose whether or not to add them to their systems, without incurring major cost swings one way or another, the companies indicated. Yet, its unclear whether Apple has installed such a module on its machines. Apple did not return a request for comment on whether or not it installed such as module in its new hardware. Limited operating system selection might not have been top of mind for Apple as the companys primary concerns is selling its own Mac OS operating system, observers said. Meanwhile, dual-boot or triple-boot machines are fairly rare among businesses and virtualization technology or software such as Microsofts Virtual PC could act as a substitute by allowing users to run Windows applications on top of Mac OS. The ability to create dual-boot machines out of Intel-based Macs and Windows or Linux would however increase the options for companies that use Apples hardware, analysts said. "You have a number of scenarios that open up that didnt before for the enterprise," said Joe Wilcox, analyst at Jupiter Research. "Imagine an outfit thats doing CAD [computer aided design] work. Most of the good CAD programs run in Windows. For a shop that might want to use Mac OS for many other things, the ability to boot into Windows could be very convenient." Jupiter Researchs figures show 21 percent of United States businesses with 10,000 or more employees run Mac OS on the desktop, he said. Those businesses might simply have to wait a few more months as both Windows and Linux are poised to gain EFI-awareness in updates due later this year. Microsoft has said Windows Vista would use EFI and include support for BIOS. Meanwhile, Linux distributions are expected to adopt a new EFI-aware version of that operating system that is coming as well, observers say. Given their EFI-awareness, Vista and the future Linux versions wouldnt need a compatibility module to run on Apples Intel hardware, firmware experts said. "A Mac is a closed box, so Apple can make decisions about things that they dont include," Wise said. "That makes, it in some ways, simpler for them." Ironically, Apple is one of the first major computer makers make a major commitment to EFI for its client computers. PC makers are expected to follow by beginning to adopt EFI for large numbers of their machines in coming months. What does Apple have planned for OS X on Intel-based Macs? Click here to read more. Those PC makers that do are likely to be forced to add the compatibility module to their machines. Given that businesses expect the PCs they buy to be able to run several versions of Windows, including Windows XP, as well as Linux, most hardware makers will have to include compatibility modules in their machines EFI firmware, said Stephen Gentile, president of Insyde Technology in Southborough, Mass. "We expect to be supporting all flavors of OSes for a long time within our [EFI] framework firmware solution," Gentile said. "Right now, the demand is such that you need to have this compatibility support." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel