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Windows goes to UFI

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UEFI Logo

UEFI LogoIt is a well known truism in Linux circles: The coolest toys come with Windows pre-installed. All a geek has to do is to either completely wipe the drive or dual boot Linux with Windows. A hitherto trivial and straightforward task that could at times be completed in a matter of minutes. That is before Microsoft decided to go all UEFI on us. Now even the geekiest of geeks can sometimes find themselves out of their depth and stuck in the mires of firmware when attempting to install Linux on a Windows 8 device.

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UEFI stands for “Unified Extensible Firmware Interface”. ‘The UEFI specification defines a new model for the interface between personal-computer operating systems and platform firmware. The interface consists of data tables that contain platform-related information, plus boot and runtime service calls that are available to the operating system and its loader. Together, these provide a standard environment for booting an operating system and running pre-boot applications. ‘ Then I stopped reading the specification. At least I now know UFI and UEFI are two different things!

Since UEFI is intended as an improved replacement of the old legacy BIOS, what are its advantages as compared to the latter (In truth UEFI can and does sit on top of BIOS). The most touted advantage is that UEFI provides a way for the firmware to verify the integrity of the operating system (Kernel) at boot time and thus acts as a bulwark against some boot-time malware that had become prevalent  As a Zimbabwean I have to look for things that could be of use or concern to my fellow beloved countryman. I do not understand some of the value or advantages revealed by Google such as: modular design, CPU-independent architecture and Flexible pre-OS environment including networking support.

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It is important to note two things: UEFI does not solve any of the BIOS’s long-standing problems of requiring two different drivers—one for the firmware and one for the operating system—for most hardware and it leaves room for vendor lock in by hardware makers and/or Microsoft. The real reason it is still a pain to install Ubuntu/Fedora or other Linux is because Microsoft mandated the use of UEFI on all vendors who want to display the Windows 8 logo on their devices. Typically these can only boot operating systems signed by a Microsoft key. Ubuntu and Redhat (Fedora) came up with two different solutions and so did the Linux Foundation. Microsoft dragged its feet signing the Linux Foundation key. It is worth mentioning that whilst the problem is not with UEFI itself, it is through UEFI that Microsoft and Apple are equipped with a DRM tool that was not at their disposal before.

Given that the most foolproof way to install Linux on a UEFI device (at least as can be witnessed from the Fedora forums after the release of Fedora 18) is to disable UEFI completely. This seems like taking a step backwards. What value does it offer me when it is disabled. I consider the right to install whatever I want on my computer including Open Source software and pirated copies of proprietary software an inalienable right. It has been one of the few remaining rights that I was able to count on being there every time I wanted to exercise it and now it is gone and for what? UEFI?

What are your thoughts, UEFI is cool? Or is it just another Itanium?


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14 thoughts on “Windows goes to UFI

  1. Interesting article – its worth pointing out that UEFI really is a huge step up from the old fashioned BIOS – for one it brings mouse support to the BIOS menu!

    the main things UEFI bring apart from the signed bootloading – which in my opinion is a good feature as long as MS get off there behind and sign the linux key or implement a solution that allows Linux installs an easier method of entry with UEFI enabled

    the other bonuses of UEFI is much better hardware support – previously BIOS’ literally were so dumb they basically only supported keyboards, storage detection and basic screen resolution (which loads so 80’s on a huge 24″ monitor), Now UEFI has full input device support, much higher resolutions, better hardware support (you can now boot off larger than 2TB hard drives) UEFI has networking support before the boot environment (so you dont strictly need cards with PXE support for network booting), faster bootup and its modular meaning that it can be extended (hence the E in UEFI) which means it will support hardware in years to come

    I’m honestly surprised BIOS has worked for so long considering its limitations, and i do agree with you that if i pay for the hardware i can do what i like with it right? even if that were to install pirate OS’ – which i dont do anymore because 9 times out of 10 they cause more problems than i have time to deal with anyway

  2. i think the main reason for the push of UEFI, was to prevent hack tools such as boot loaders that were used to bypass licensing systems in previous windows systems. BIOS in my opinion didnt really need most of the stuff that anthonysomerset pointed out..as it was just an interface for hardware than anything else…most people havent actually used BIOS, let alone know of its existance.. this was more for us techies, so the demand for a change in features and specification of BIOS couldn’t have had that much of a big demand.

    it basically means that the hardware a user buys, will be limited to run on different types of OS’s. this is similar to what Apple had done with their hardware (until recently if im not mistaken). while microsoft is trying to protect itself with UEFI, they have actually cornered the expansion of new, alternate and open source OS’s on desktop machines..as noted UEFI can be disabled, but you may find that in future all MS OS’s will require it be enabled before it can be installed or used.this is just speculation.. but i think its highly likely.

    1. apple haven’t stopped using EFI (there own proprietry firmware though) and they likely wont stop until some newer better technology comes out for managing the boot process

      the 2 biggest gains of UEFI that BIOS cant do are booting off huge drives (due to the limitations of MBR partition schemes) and the speed improvements through better access to memory/ram and CPU – eg BIOS was limited to 1MB memory and 16bit cpu layer – EFI and UEFI can access all your ram should it need it and has basic multi-threading to speed up boot POST checks and boot initiation of the handoff to the OS boot sequence

      sure with BIOS you can workaround those issues but it leads to a poorer user experience ultimately in the form of slower boot speeds and being constrained in how you setup your disks or needing to have a <2TB HD just for booting your OS (this issue will become more common in the future and has held up the adoption of larger disks as system disks until now) despite the issues around the security aspects of it, i think its a good thing, and I think preventing piracy is a good thing but not at the expense of the Open Source sector

      people forget that its not just about preventing piracy as well, some of the smarter viruses out there were/are hijacking the boot sequence straight from the BIOS to make it almost impossible to get rid of the virus without a complete format of all your system disks

      1. ok… i see where you are coming from now. i agree that BIOS needed an update especially with the 2TB bootable drive limit…as we’re now seeing 3TB drives in production. The problem i have with UEFI on W8 PC’s, is that mandating it on all new hardware.. means that it affects the way all OS’s need to address bootup on that hardware…not just Windows. So it left the FOSS community to work around that (which means disabling UEFI) until MS decide to eventually assign a valid signed pre-boot loader for the FOSS community to use. everyone is still waiting for MS to do this.. which is proof that this gives MS an upper hand (and ultimate control) over which OS’s can be installed and run on hardware which they dont actually produce…just certify for use with their OS.

        The reason i believe MS are taking their time though, is that i suspect by assigning a pre-boot loader to the FOSS community, this would become public knowledge.. and could open up the inner workings of UEFI on W8 PC’s…. which could be exploited by hackers, viruses, etc

  3. UEFI has merits but it has an anticompetitive nature to it. Whilst it can be disabled(losing its full benefit) for dual booting, in a way it pushes users to lock-in to windows. They have time to be making money off installations but expect the unforgiving EU to catchup and bite.

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