Need help with LinuxBIOS speech

Ronald G Minnich rminnich at
Thu Sep 5 18:15:01 CEST 2002

On Thu, 5 Sep 2002, Christer Weinigel wrote:

> I think I need a short introduction to LinuxBIOS and also a short
> history of where it came from.

history: I started this project at LANL three years ago this month. The
original purpose was to make clusters easier to manage. Clusters take 1
FTE per 128 nodes to manage at minimum, and that was no longer workable
ca. 1999, as we envisioned clusters of 256 or 1024 or more nodes. At the
same time, existing BIOSes were too stupid to be useful, and took a lot of
effort to keep running -- I once had to do the "magic key" sequence to get
128 nodes to boot from CDROM. Remy Evard at Argonne got to move a keyboard
and cart around to over 256 nodes to do a bios upgrade -- twice. Systems
with existing BIOSes could not be used to build manageable clusters.

It seemed to me that with the demise of ISA and other old PC junk, and the
common use of self-describing hardware, we could build an open-source
BIOS. My hope was that we could further use Linux as the bootstrap and
second half of the BIOS. There were thus two key questions to ask: could
Linux boot Linux, and could we write an open source BIOS? If both these
questions could be answered "yes", then an open-source BIOS was practical.

I spent the next few months figuring out if Linux could boot Linux. I had
a fair number of core folks tell me this was impossible, but we did it
anyway, and other folks have come along since and written much better
systems that do the same thing (see kexec and two kernel monte and

Once we knew linux could boot linux, it was time to check out open source
bioses. James Hendrix and Dale Webster found OpenBIOS and over winter
break showed that our L440GX+ boards could be booted with OpenBIOS -- from
a floppy, under DOS.

The next few months were consumed with me trying to figure out how to get
flash written on the 440GX, and then trying to figure out why DRAM did not

Sometime that spring SiS joined the effort. The first "multi-user login"
message on the web page is "New as of 5/5/00: First login, 9:15 AM MST".

Also that Spring we moved the code base to FreeBIOS as it had more C and
less assembly.

Ca. 5/10/00 the NPS tried to burn Los Alamos down so we took a short

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