coreboot in the future
AB: In which areas have you found coreboot deployed?
RM: Many places that might surprise you. Routers, Digital TVs, Digital Kiosks, Helicopter modems, Robots – the list is very long, and new users crop up all the time.
SR: There are more than 10 million computers running coreboot out there these days. Many of them are appliances and set-top boxes. Stuff that is supposed to be instant-on. But some companies also sell servers running coreboot now. The use cases are very wide-spread. Some coreboot machines were hunting mines in Afghanistan, others were making sure the data integrity and performance in large hospitals is guaranteed. Coreboot has been used in systems testing and improving the security of cars, and of course in quite a couple of super computer clusters with thousands and thousands of nodes. AMD hardware is supported very well, as AMD has been supporting the project since 5 years now. Also, a lot of VIA embedded systems work great with coreboot. Recently we were able to improve support for Intel systems. It seems like Intel might be catching up with AMD and VIA in terms of Open Source Software support.
AB: Any ideas where coreboot will be used in a couple of next years?
SR: I have been talking to lots of hardware vendors, and there is a great interest in using coreboot on all kinds of different machines. We will spread into more desktop and mobile devices, laptops, embedded systems and servers.
RM: I know of at least one commercial laptop project, and there is a possibility of a workstation project. I believe the logic of an open source BIOS makes the idea unstoppable. Proprietary, closed source BIOSes will continue to have their place, I suppose, but in the long run open source is bound to have as much of an impact in the BIOS world as it has everywhere else.
There are amazing tools being built right now. SeaBIOS (C-BIOS) is a from-scratch BIOS, written in C, that can boot Windows. AMD has built many neat "payloads", i.e. software loaded from coreboot, and we now have a "chooser" that lets people pick many different BIOS personalities at runtime. We have a project called All Virtual All The Time (AVATT), which was funded by Google Summer of Code. In AVATT, coreBoot boots directly into a KVM-enabled Linux, and from that point on, all following OSes are run in virtual machine guests. What that means is that you can box the guest OS in, which is very useful if the guest is an OS with poor security. I think AVATT is going to be a big deal.
We have a new library, libpayload, which makes it very easy for people to write custom coreboot payloads that do many interesting operations, including showing your machine configuration; booting over non-traditional media; and even booting Windows XP.
I would like to thank the vendors who have helped us in the past and continue to help us, especially AMD, who are a very strong supporter. VIA is also a supporter, having recently released chipset code. Vendors are coming on board as they realise the advantages of using coreboot.
AB: Thank you guys for such amazing insights and happy anniversary to your project!
About the author: Anton Borisov lives and works in Russia. Always being fond of low-level programming, he has devoted his PhD work to economic analysis of advantages and ROI of custom-made firmware. The author would like to thank Alexandra Erb, coreSystems GMBH, Germany and Axel Belinfante, University of Twente, Holland for their assistance.