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By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-01-31 Print this article Print

UEFIs promised stability comes from taking a standard approach to handling firmware, experts say. Under UEFI, each piece of hardware used in a PC is expected to be provided with its own driverlike software, allowing changes related to that bit to be made while the remainder of the firmware goes unchanged. Minimizing changes helps to cut down on potential software conflicts that cause PC instability, experts say.
"This has been one of the dirty little secrets of the PC industry for 20-plus years," Wise said. "The PC industry, which grew up as a clone industry … has had to invent interfaces in fits and starts. Even now, 20 years later, a lot of these are not documented. UEFI fixes that, because its very clear exactly what you have to do."
Phoenix Technologies, as well as American Megatrends and Insyde Technology—who were early backers of Intels EFI work before it became UEFI—will pick up and run with many of UEFIs new features. The EFI and UEFI interfaces provide for a boot manager, normally a third-party application, which will make it easier for PCs to toggle between operating systems or boot from numerous devices, such as SANs (storage area networks), in addition to their on-board drives. A network stack included in the interface also will allow PCs to access a network before loading their operating systems. The ability to boot from an alternate source and to tap a network before loading an operating system makes possible new ways for management software to diagnose hardware problems, UEFI backers say. Phoenix Technologies, for one, intends to offer pre-boot authentication for logging on to a system and a network, as well as systems management and recovery applications, Wise said. Yet, because it exerts a large amount of control over a PC and will be well-documented, the UEFI interface could become a target for malicious software. "If your motivation is to take down an enterprise, this could potentially create havoc," Wise said. To combat potential threats, the UEFI 2.0 specification adds driver signing in an effort to ensure that only the proper hardware drivers get installed on a computer, he said. A proposed UEFI 2.1 specification would add advanced cryptography, network authentication and IPv6 support. As stated by Phoenix Technologies, UEFI software makers can add their own security bits on top of the specification as well. So, despite the fact that Windows and Linux will undoubtedly carry BIOS interface capabilities for years into the future, many believe that move to UEFI is now inevitable. "Theres an underlying theme in all of this that EFI brings a lot of capabilities that are done in nonstandard, ad hoc ways now into an industry-standard architecture or environment, which is always good," Holmberg said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

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.

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