At its Developer Forum in Shenzhen, China last week, it was clear that Intel is hoping to attract a new breed of Internet of Things developers: those from desktop/laptop, mobile/smartphone and enterprise platforms with few skills in developing the embedded firmware that these devices need. The company’s efforts center around the introduction of the company's Firmware Engine (Figure), the beta version of which was introduced with great fanfare.
Based on the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) standard, Firmware Engine is a GUI-based tool, hosted on a Microsoft Windows platform, that allows developers to quickly create binary firmware images based on Intel-certified UEFI code. These binaries can then be used by a developer to create the basic software needed to initialize platform hardware and launch operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Android, and Linux.
The UEFI standard defines a software interface between an operating system and platform firmware and replaces the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) firmware interface used on early Intel- and Windows-based systems. As of Version 2.4 released in 2013, it now supports Intel's Itanium, x86, and x86-64 as well as ARM's AArch32 and AArch64. The Linux kernel is also able to use EFI at boot time.
In a recent blog post, Michael Greene, vice president of the Intel Software and Services Group, said that the tool was developed because device manufacturers expressed the need for firmware to do one basic job, booting their systems.
“Firmware is essential to the boot process, but it’s not what device manufacturers want to spend most of their time working on. Intel is providing the Firmware Engine to automate firmware development so manufacturers can focus on creating innovative products for their customers.”
Based on what I have seen so far, Firmware Engine is a well thought out graphical tool for simplifying the boot firmware development process for relatively inexperienced developers. The Windows-based utility provides a graphical interface by which a developer can customize an Intel-provided and validated reference UEFI firmware design.
Six menu bar categories are provided for maneuvering around the tool environment. When the package is opened you can select pre-certified binary images of firmware from a menu in a left side panel. A right side navigation panel lists a variety of hardware, connector, peripheral, and firmware components that can be selected or deleted. From these panels you can drag and drop your choices into a graphical placeholder and build derivatives based on specific product customization needs. It is also possible to add and remove features and add third-party components. The tool then integrates the choices into a custom boot payload.
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