BIOS vendor Phoenix Technologies Inc. on Thursday said it had developed a utility technology that will let users check their Outlook data on a notebook computer without needing to boot the machine.
The Phoenix FirstWare Assistant will be marketed to notebook vendors and computer logicboard manufacturers as a way for them to differentiate their products as well as give users PDA-like response times for personal data, Phoenix executives said.
The utility is an expanded version of Phoenixs FirstWare application, itself a part of the Milpitas, Calif., companys next-generation BIOS software, called the Phoenix Core Managed Environment (cME).
The FirstWare application is Phoenixs latest effort to develop a pre-boot environment where users can access data without having to go through the whole boot process. Originally, cME was designed to give OEMs a BIOS framework for “trusted computing,” where data is checked against both a trusted OS as well as a hardware security chip to ensure that it is viewed only by authorized persons.
Since Microsofts trusted OS, “Longhorn,” is still several years away, Phoenix is now developing trusted and generic utility applications that can run under its own operating environment. The applications will provide quick, secure access to commonly used data. Existing cME Phoenixs OEM customers in the PC space include Samsung Electronics Co., Fujitsu Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc.
“This new product, the FirstWare Assistant, really leverages that place between hardware and OS,” said Michael Goldgof, senior vice president of marketing for Phoenix.
The expanded FirstWare Assistant allows read-only access to an Outlook calendar, e-mail and contact data within a few seconds.
“This is basically a product that helps mobile users today,” Goldgof added. “When you boot up your machine, it usually takes three or four minutes to get your e-mail. You have to boot up your machines, then launch Outlook, and that takes a couple of [more] minutes. Its a pretty long time.”
When a user pushes the power button of a FirstWare-enabled computer to begin restoring a notebook from hibernation or to power it up, the system begins booting. Users can then hit the “F” key to enter into the cME environment, where they will have the option to launch the FirstWare application.
For now, users will have read-only access to a selected amount of Outlook data, although Goldgof said the next generation of the software would include both read and write access.
In addition, users will be able to select how much information they want to access, such as the number of contacts, a certain quantity of e-mail message or access to a certain period of the calendar records. This information will be saved to a special backup file that both the cME and Windows can access.
The FirstWare application looks like a plug-in to Outlook, and users will manage the configuration options inside the application. Goldgof said he did not know whether the application could generate alerts, as a PC-based or PDA-based PIM does.
“Some people have bought a PDA just to provide them this quick access to critical information,” Goldgof said. “That doesnt seem all that practical.”
In addition to the cME, the applications will require Windows XP and Outlook 2000 or above, Goldgof said. The application cannot open or manipulate attachments, such as Adobe Acrobat .PDF files.
Phoenix FirstWare Assistant will be sold to OEMs and partners as a means of differentiating their products, Goldgof said. The software will not be sold directly to end users.
According to Goldgof, the expanded Phoenix FirstWare Assistant was originally used as part of Hewlett-Packards line of tablet PCs, providing access to contact information at the touch of a button. Now, Phoenix has added e-mail support. Future Phoenix application software will leverage the companys core competencies, focusing on security, usability, data integrity and recovery, Goldgof said.
On Monday, the company will announce a new trusted security product. No further details were offered.