LinuxBIOS - A truly GPLed Free Software BIOS

November 16, 2006
A few months back, I had posted an article related to BIOS which described its functions. A BIOS is an acronym for Basic Input Output System and is the starting point of the boot process in your computer. But one of the disadvantages of the proprietary BIOS which are embedded in most PCs is that there is a good amount of code which is used in it to support legacy operating systems such as DOS and the end result is a longer time taken to boot up and pass the control to the resident operating system.

This time can be significantly reduced if the code pertaining to legacy OSes is removed; especially if you intend to install and use any of the modern OSes on your system which tends to do all the hardware probing and load its own hardware drivers anyway. So in a PC running a modern OS such as one of the BSDs, Linux or Windows, the BIOS is doing nothing but providing information, and much of the information it provides will not even be used. In such machines, all the BIOS really had to do is load the bootstrap loader or bootloader and pass the control to the resident OS.

One project which intends to give the BIOS chip makers such as Phoenix and Award a run for their money is the LinuxBIOS project. LinuxBIOS aims to replace the normal BIOS found on PCs, Alphas, and other machines with a Linux kernel that can boot Linux from a cold start. The trick that LinuxBIOS uses is to use a embedded Linux OS to load the main OS. Some of the benefits of using a LinuxBIOS as listed in their website over the more common BIOS-es are as follows (and I quote):

  • 100% Free Software BIOS (GPL)
  • No royalties or license fees!
  • Fast boot times (3 seconds from power-on to Linux console)
  • Avoids the need for a slow, buggy, proprietary BIOS
  • Runs in 32-Bit protected mode almost from the start
  • Written in C, contains virtually no assembly code
  • Supports a wide variety of hardware and payloads
  • Further features: netboot, serial console, remote flashing, ...
The LinuxBIOS project has been making rapid inroads into general acceptance by many computer manufacturers. But one of its major break through was that the One Laptop per Child project selected it for inclusion in its laptop meant for use by children. But the hot news fresh out is that Google - the search engine giant has jumped in the foray by deciding to sponsor the LinuxBIOS project. As of now the LinuxBIOS supports a total of 121 motherboards from 58 vendors.

You can watch a video of Linux BIOS booting Linux on a rev board below:


  • A timely review. What makes this more interesting is Google is a sponsor of this project and there are rumors that google might launch this as their WEBOS to take on Microsoft Windows Vista.

    I'm also going to write a bit more about this with implications to other players in O/S market

  • Update on One Laptop BIOS designs (now using Sun Open Firmware as well).