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Instant Internet access before you boot Windows

BIOS king Phoenix's safety net offers instant boot up

BIOS king Phoenix Technologies is developing its core software technologies to help users cope better with system failures.

Phoenix Core Management Environment, or cME, promises a means for OEMs to include diagnostic and self help capabilities, Internet access and remote desktop builds, even after a major system malfunction.

The technology is operating system independent and designed to be used on both PCs, servers, appliances and embedded systems.

It's at the desktop where the technology really comes alive though. Existing below the operating system, it offers not just life after the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, but a means for users to fire up system diagnostics, calendar applications and Internet access almost instantly - without waiting for Windows (or Linux) to boot.

Add to that the technology, currently in development, to allow a DVD Player to fire up in trice and we have something rather useful (and which sounds similar to Elegent's etDVD bios). Phoenix's technology is not an OS but it is looking for ISVs to write applications to bolt into its system.

Windows .NOT

We saw a demo of the environment running of a Compaq Tablet PC. Although we weren't able to check out the Internet access functions, and our first impression was that more work needs to be done on the GUI, its possible to imagine people in a hurry booting up their Windows PC and accessing the Net using cME without touching Windows.

We can't believe this concept will go down well in Redmond, for reasons long-term Reg readers know only too well.

Phoenix execs we spoke to today played down the possibility of rousing the Beast and instead emphasised how the cME environment allows OEMs to tailor the user experience to their own design.

This has to be an anathema to Microsoft. But Phoenix already has links to all the major OEMs, so its aspirations to extend its role have a firm foundation. The possibility of Phoenix offering PC manufacturers technology that makes it easier for users to diagnose software problems, thereby helping to potentially reduce support costs, might prove enticing.

Phoenix rising

Phoenix hasn't signed any OEMs as yet but expects the technology to reach the market in around three months.

AMD and Transmeta have been rounded up to sing the praises of the technology and Phoenix tells us Intel is backing the technology too, although its name doesn't appear on the press release. Samsung and National Semiconductors also join the cME cheerleader brigade.

This morning we got a reasonable first impression of how the technology works, which we're hoping to flesh out with more detail later.

Phoenix cME resides within the system firmware and a protected area of the hard drive. We were blitzed with soundbites about secure cME (a 'bomb shelter'/safety net) is but the real importance of the technology seems to be in simplifying recovery when something goes wrong.

In PC and server environments, Phoenix cME enables the creation and management of a secure "host protected area" (HPA) of the hard drive, where applications reside. The first of these are Phoenix's own FirstWave apps, which help diagnose and recover PCs if the OS goes tits-up, third party developers can write their own aps for storage in this "tamper-proof"(actually tamper-resistant) area.

Phoenix is talking to McAfee about installing a version of its AV software in this area. This would seem to require considerable development work and we suspect McAfee interest here is in extending its marketing reach to more potential customers of its flagship VirusScan suite.

McAfee already has a deal to preload VirusScan on PCs from several vendors but it can reach a far greater potential customer base where its technology feature in the core systems of the world's largest BIOS software firm.

Let's talk technical

After meeting Phoenix's sales/marketing people this morning we were left with three main questions. What are the benefits for ISVs in writing to its environment? In the case of McAfee would a user have two versions of VirusScan running on their PCs, we wondered?

Secondly we wanted to know about the privacy safeguards (if any) that have been put in place for the Internet access functions provided through Phoenix's technology. Phoenix has strayed into controversial waters on this point in the past (Phoenix BIOS phone-home questions addressed), so it's as well to know what its doing now.

Lastly we wanted to know more about the statement that for "information appliances and consumer electronics devices, set as set-top boxes and hand-held devices, Phoenix cME provides the same secure environment for content delivery from the Internet".

We'd rather like to know what copy restrictions this might impose on users.

Phoenix, through its UK PR agency, has promised to pass over these questions to its techies in the States for a response, which we await with interest. ®

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