By Woody Leonhard
If you’ve ever struggled with your PC’s BIOS — or been knee-capped by a rootkit that assailed the BIOS — you undoubtedly wondered why this archaic part of every PC wasn’t scrapped long ago.
Well, be of good cheer: Windows 8 will finally pull the PC industry out of the BIOS generation and into a far more capable — and controversial — alternative, the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface.
To best understand where we’re headed, it’s helpful to look at where we’ve been. An integral part of every PC, the Basic Input/Output System spans the entire history of the personal computer — more than 30 years. The very first IBM PC had a BIOS. And despite extraordinary advances in hardware and software, the BIOS we still puzzle over today is not much different from the one in that original PC.
Essentially a miniature OS, the BIOS has a simple but critical function — when a PC powers up, the BIOS checks that all hardware is in order (the POST or “power-on self-test” sequence); fires up the full operating system on the machine, such as Windows (using OS loader code); and then hands all control of the computer over to the OS.
Although older operating systems (such as DOS) relied on the BIOS to perform input and output functions, modern OSes (including Windows) have their own device drivers and completely bypass the BIOS after they’re up and running.