Jumping to Conclusions on BIOS, Phoenix and Windows

A friend of mine IMed me a link to Digg the other day congratulating me on getting voted to the front page. Curious, I checked it out and I was found out it wasn't directly to my article, but to...

April 13, 2007

4 Min Read
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A friend of mine IMed me a link to Digg the other day congratulating me on getting voted to the front page. Curious, I checked it out and I was found out it wasn't directly to my article, but to a forum post on Linuxquestions.org. That forum post had a link in it from a small article I wrote four years ago. Even worse, the poster, who goes by the nom de plume "chessonly", tells a chilling tale of installing Windows XP and openSUSE on his Toshiba laptop only to find a BIOS password preventing him from booting later.

From this single short article and a BIOS text warning, chessonly has come to the conclusion that it must be a conspiracy between Microsoft and Phoenix that is preventing him from accessing his laptop. That conclusion is a logical leap at best and a flat-out guess at worst. There is no evidence other than chessonly's post and one other on a different site (that I frankly think he wrote as well) to support this.

The listings at Digg and Reddit did nothing but draw in the anti-Microsoft crowd and spread useless information that was backed up by extremely minimal research.

When I wrote the original piece on Phoenix's agreement with Microsoft four years ago, there was a real possibility that strong ties between BIOS vendors and Microsoft could lead to problems for the Linux community. The business reality of today is that any BIOS company would be stupid to tie themselves to a single operating system. It would make them pariahs of an almost SCO level.

Has Phoenix added features to its BIOS specifically to work with Windows features? Certainly they have. They are actually probably closer to Microsoft than I am comfortable with. But that does NOT mean they are locking out users of other operating systems. I am as wary of Microsoft as anyone, but the sky really needs to be falling before we scream and point. Otherwise our screams will not be heard when the sky really is falling.

My real irritation with this is the sheer number of people that were ready, willing, and able to believe such a thin post. It seems to me this story was voted up on both Digg and Reddit for two primary reasons. First, anti-Microsoft sentiment. Some people will vote up a negative Microsoft story regardless of its merit, simply to spite Microsoft. Second, because people are either unwilling to read the material or lack the judgment to read a piece critically. The second bit is a long way of saying an acronym that I can't post on our family-friendly site but is a lot like "Read The Friendly Article".

Now to their credit, several Digg and Reddit commenters pointed out the rashness of chessonly's judgment and advised caution before blaming Phoenix, Microsoft, or Toshiba. Their wise words were almost drowned out in the "Down with MS" and "I'm never buying a machine with Phoenix BIOS" posts.

Just to clear the air, I took some time this afternoon to speak with Phoenix about their BIOS and the way they regard operating systems. Phoenix says that they have added features to their BIOS to help support Windows but have never made a BIOS that would lock out other operating systems. Here's what the CTO & Senior Vice President of Engineering at Phoenix has to say:

"It is directly against Phoenix's policy to create BIOS that would lock customers into any single OS. It has never been or will it ever be Phoenix's intention to lock a customer into a particular OS." ???Gaurav Banga, CTO & SVP of Engineering at Phoenix Technologies Ltd.

In addition, Phoenix is working with the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) and is the leader of the Boot Technology Working Group within CELF. Gaurav Banga also tells me that the BTWG is Phoenix's first effort in with the open source community and that they plan more involvement with mainstream desktop and server Linux efforts.

I don't know what happened to chessonly's Toshiba laptop. Toshiba's BIOS download page indicates that their BIOS is only designed for Windows Vista. No doubt the laptop itself is festooned with "Visa Ready" or some such stickers as well. If Toshiba did not intend to allow users of alternate operating systems to be used, there is nothing about it on their web site. Toshiba is only doing what every PC vendor in the world does, only covering the operating systems they sell with the box. That may not be the most Linux friendly stance in the whole world, but it certainly doesn't prevent the use of Linux. I suspect that chessonly's problem is somewhere between the chair and the keyboard.

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