Putting Applications on the Hard Drive

Phoenix is creating a secure applications layer between the BIOS and the operating system in PCs, servers and mobile devices.

Phoenix Technologies Inc., a leading BIOS manufacturer for more than two decades, is branching out with a plan to create a secure applications layer between the BIOS and the operating system in PCs, servers and mobile devices.

Dubbed the Phoenix Core Managed Environment, or cME, the technology is designed to be built into a protected area of the computers hard drive, according to officials with the San Jose, Calif., company.

Residing within these tamper-proof areas are Phoenix cME-certified applications—the FirstWare product family—that offer such services as anti-virus protection, security, diagnostics, backup and Internet access. These applications, because they are not part of the operating system, are protected against system crashes and can be used to help recover PCs in case of crashes, officials said.

"They are creating a pre-boot environment, with all kinds of services, diagnostics and basic applications," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in San Jose. "This sits between the BIOS and the operating system."

Users will turn on the computer, but before the operating system boots up, they will get access via APIs to the applications within the cME. When the user is ready and has been authenticated, the system will then boot up the OS.

Reynolds said the technology could prove particularly useful in mobile devices such as notebooks. If a user loses a notebook or has it stolen, the information within it also is lost and is vulnerable. The cME applications add another layer of security to that, he said.

Also, in this time of hardware commoditization, offering something like the cME in their boxes could help OEMs differentiate their products, Reynolds said.

The technology also will enable Phoenix-certified ISVs to write other applications that could reside in the protected area, company officials said. In addition, Phoenix is offering developer toolkits to make it easier for third-party vendors to write software for the cME operating environment.

The cME is being offered in four editions—for PCs, servers, consumer information appliance and embedded industrial applications.