Wednesday, May 15th 2019

Intel Releases ModernFW as Open Source, minimal Firmware Replacement

Today Intel announced ModernFW - an experimental approach to building a minimum viable platform firmware for machines such as cloud server platforms. The reason for this software is that, while traditional PC Firmware has evolved over time and retained its backward compatibility, it has become very big and often inefficient.

So to meet the requirements of new platforms that need to be built quickly and adapted easily, Intel decided to offer a new software package that will help with that. The new firmware package targets x86_64 from ISA standpoint and Linux kernel based OSes.

One example of where this software package may be useful is when more of a vertical integration needs to be done. For example, current attempts are trying to remove as much functionality from firmware to the operating system, so the firmware becomes easier to use and to build. Current objectives for ModernFW are:
  • Modern, native 64-bit boot process
  • Just enough firmware to boot and self-maintain
  • Eliminate legacy device types
  • Minimal emulated and virtual device support
  • Defer work to the OS where possible
  • Hand off to host kernel sooner
  • Minimize number of firmware drivers
  • Modular, customizable configuration
  • Shared code trees between firmware and kernel/OS
Why trust and use open source Firmware?

Open source firmware has been a debate for a long time, with many people and corporations discussing whatever to use it or not and can it be trusted. But I feel the need to explain to a wider audience that open source firmware is beneficial for everyone. Besides many benefits of open source code in general, with open firmware, the benefits are multiplied. Firstly, due to multiple recent hardware attacks like Spectre, Meltdown, L1 terminal fault, RIDL, Fallout, etc. good firmware is essential to the security of systems. Why? Because everyone is able to access code and propose improvements. That means whenever someone discovers a safety critical bug, the same person can reverse the process and fix it.
ModernFW is based on TianoCore, and Intel states that any learning will be passed upstream to that community so they benefit as well. Source: Intel GitHub
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