LinuxBIOS Brings Clones One Step Closer to Freedom - Page 2

By Carla Schroder | Posted Oct 23, 2007
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Who Uses It?

LinuxBIOS booting an embedded Linux kernel was the original BIOS for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. In 2006 the Linux kernel was replaced with Open Firmware.

A number of commercial products are already using LinuxBIOS— visit the Vendors & Products section for a partial list.

In the beginning phases of the LinuxBIOS project it was a straight uphill job with no support from hardware vendors, and with the legal hassles perhaps outweighing the technical challenges; because even though reverse-engineering is legal, it only takes one small herd of corporate lawyers to ruin your life. You'd think that hardware vendors would be interested in expanding their customer base painlessly, but no, they weren't, as is so often the case in high tech. But finally, after seven years of hard work and persistence, a number of high-profile names have come aboard: Google, AMD, Acer, VIA, Newisys, and several others.

Trying It Yourself

This is very much a work in progress, and a chance to exercise some serious geekery. There don't appear to be any desktop motherboards that ship with LinuxBIOS as an option. The Vendors & Products section lists a number of embedded boards that use it.

So testing it out yourself safely on a PC will require a few pieces of specialty hardware and a lot of reading before you start. Don't use a motherboard you can't afford to write off. Use a supported motherboard with a socketed, or removable, BIOS chip; this is always recoverable if you mess it up. Boards with soldered BIOS ROMs will be unusable with no cost-effective way to fix them if you make a mistake. Be absolutely paranoid about static electricity and follow all the precautions. If your motherboard is not listed then check the list of supported chipsets, because the same few chipsets appear on all motherboards. (Portland, Oregon residents, visit FreeGeek for all the inexpensive second-hand hardware you could ever use.)

Linux on embedded devices is a fast-growing field, so this could be your introduction to an new and fascinating profession, and I think it is the next frontier of open source. Consider documenting your adventures and sharing them on the LinuxBIOS Wiki or mailing list. And maybe let your favorite motherboard vendor know that you want them to offer LinuxBIOS as an option.

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