OpenPOWER port comments, and EFI creation story

A few weeks ago, I noticed a new Github project where someone at IBM had ported UEFI to OpenPOWER. Later that day, someone *ELSE* at IBM had *ALSO* ported UEFI to OpenPOWER — two ports! And they found out about each other because of my blog, too funny! Anyway, they’re actively conversing on the Comments thread on the blog:

https://firmwaresecurity.com/2015/10/12/tianocore-for-openpower/#comments

In addition to OpenPOWER issues, the Comments section has MULTIPLE people posting comments, which is a first for this blog! There’s some good background on history of EFI, including a pointer to 2005-era message that includes the ‘creation saga’ of EFI! In the past, Apple used OpenFirmware on PowerPC-based Macs, and PC vendors used BIOS on x86-based PCs. When Windows NT started support for non-x86 systems, ARC was used for the RISC vendors. Then Intel Itanium needed a solution. They nearly used ARC or OpenFirmware, before going down the route for EFI for Itanium, which later grew into UEFI and is now on Apple and PC systems as well. Here’s an excerpt with Andrew Fish talking about how EFI was created:

“At that time, two firmware solutions were put on the table as
replacements for BIOS architectures for the Itanium: Alpha Reference
Console (ARC) and Open Firmware. It turned out that nobody really
owned the inellectual property to ARC, and in any case, it did not
have enough extensible properties to make it practical for a
horizontal industry. At this point, Open Firmware became the
frontrunner as Apple and Sun both used it. However, Open Firmware was
not without its own technical challenges. The PC had started down a
path of using the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) as
its runtime namespace to describe the platform to the operating
system. As I liked to say at the time, the only thing worse than one
namespace is keeping two namespaces in sync. The other problem was the
lack of third party support for Open Firmware. We invited the
FirmWorks guys to come visit us at Dupont (WA), and we had a great
talk. Given we had just gone through an exercise of inventing a
firmware base from scratch, I think we were uniquely qualified to
appreciate what Open Firmware had been able to achieve. Unfortunately,
it became clear that the infrastructure to support a transition to
Open Firmware did not exist. Given the namespace issue with Open
Firmware and the lack of industry enabling infrastructure, we decided
to go on and make EFI a reality.”

Full post:

http://beowulf.org/pipermail/beowulf/2009-November/026956.html

I thought ARC stood for “Advanced RISC Consortium”, but I can’t argue with Andrew, maybe it originally stood for “Alpha Reference Console”.  (During these years, I was doing “ring0′ work, not firmware, and my favorite box at the time was a DEC Alpha AXP with ARC-based firmware.) ARC is very similar to early EFI: a single firmware image with a FAT partition where additional firmware images are stored, using ‘variables’ to specify the boot loader to invoke. ARC died off, like all the RISC-based Windows NT platforms, a shame, IMO. The ARC spec is still archived by the NetBSD project, who still supports ARC:

https://www.netbsd.org/docs/Hardware/Machines/ARC/

I wonder how life would be today if Intel would have chosen ARC or OpenFirmware?

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