November 10, 2011, 3:42 PM —
When you turn on your computer, a primitive system that dates back more than 30 years, the basic input/output system (BIOS), turns your cold hardware into a functioning system that your operating system can then boot from. Alas, it's sadly out of date. PC makers have slowly been replacing BIOS with the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). That's all well and good, but one UEFI feature, Secure Boot, could be used to lock PCs into being only able to boot one operating system: Windows 8.
So, what's really going on here? Is UEFI just a way for Microsoft and its most loyal original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to keep Linux and other alternative operating systems out or is it more than that? To answer that, let's take a look at what's what with UEFI.
What is UEFI
If you're in the computer hardware business, you know that BIOS has been terribly outdated for decades. For example, a BIOS only has 1,024KB (kilobytes) of executable space. That, in turn means, a BIOS has trouble starting up the multiple peripheral interfaces (USB, eSATA, ThunderBolt, etc.) devices, ports, and controllers on a modern PC. Just as annoying, the BIOS was never meant to initialize more than a handful of devices so even if you can get all devices ready to go it will take up to 30 seconds after you turn the switch on before your PC is ready to start booting.
The computer companies aren't dumb. They knew that BIOS was obsolete even before the 21st century dawned. But, until recently they couldn't agree on how to replace it.
In 1998, Intel started work on the “Intel Boot Initiative” (IBI), later known as Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). While Apple, in its Intel-based Macs, and HP, with its Itanium 2 servers, used it, the other OEMs and, needless to say, Intel's rival chip vendors, weren't initially keen on adopting EFI. In 2007, Intel, along with AMD, AMI, Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Phoenix Technologies, finally agreed to use UEFI (the re-branded EFI) as the universal replacement for BIOS.