Intel Working On Open-Sourcing The FSP - Would Be Huge Win For Coreboot & Security
Written by Michael Larabel in Intel on 12 December 2018 at 09:00 AM EST. 30 Comments
INTEL --
Intel's Architecture Day on Tuesday was delightfully filled with an overwhelming amount of valuable hardware information, but Intel's software efforts were also briefly touched on too. In fact, Raja Koduri reinforced how software is a big part of Intel technology and goes in-hand with their security, interconnect, memory, architecture, and process pillars and that's where their new oneAPI initiative will fit in. But what learning afterwards was most exciting on the software front.

Raja shared during his presentation that Intel has around 15,882 people working on software at the company. The number is certainly high and caught me by some surprise but, of course, they are one of the largest contributors to the Linux kernel, maintain a plethora of open-source projects under the Intel Open-Source Technology Center, put out a lot of Windows software as well, the ICC compiler, and a lot of other software applications and tools. In comparison, the latest reports put AMD's total headcount at around nine thousand, compared to Intel having fifteen thousand working on software alone of their more than one hundred thousand employees worldwide.

Another number Raja shared during his presentation was that Intel oversees 35 Linux distributions. Intel's most notable Linux distribution is likely Clear Linux, which we feature a lot thanks to its incredible performance potential, but they are also heavily involved in Yocto, MeeGo/Moblin in the past, etc.

After a round-table discussion with Raja Koduri and Jim Keller though came the biggest surprise for me of the day... I decided to ask Raja if given Intel's renewed emphasis on security whether there were any plans to open-source the FSP... I asked it just like I ask NVIDIA if they have any new plans to help open-source drivers and other long enduring questions along those lines just for one day hoping to hear the long sought after response while not expecting to be surprised... But Raja threw that surprise: he's working on it!

Free software purists, security conscience users, and others have for years wanted Intel to open-source their firmware support package (FSP) for initializing the Intel silicon - the CPU, memory controller, chipset - rather than being a binary blackbox that could potentially contain backdoors and an inhibitor for those wanting an open-source system down to the BIOS. Intel does a job of great open-source work at many levels of the stack, but at this lowest-level with the FSP is where sadly has been this binary blob needed to initialize Intel hardware. Raja indicated that he is indeed working on opening it up.


When having another opportunity to ask him about it later in the day, asking about a possible time-frame he expected to know more in Q1 -- quite pleasant as after being caught off-guard by his initial response, fearing it could be more of a multi-year undertaking. He also indicated that there is customer demand for having the FSP open-source. When asked whether this would just be for future platforms or also current hardware, he didn't have an immediate answer. Unfortunately, with Raja being in high demand at such an event, there wasn't much extra time for asking other questions of interest to our Linux/open-source audience.

This is exciting as hell for making Intel hardware more open-source friendly and increases the prospects of better Coreboot/LinuxBoot support on newer Intel motherboards and also a reasonable measure for ensuring better security in today's environment. It will also be interesting to see if this move makes AMD then reconsider opening up their AGESA.

While it's not set in stone yet, it's looking good like we could see an Intel open-source FSP in 2019... When I hear anything more, I'll certainly pass it along for what is looking like a major win for open-source and security.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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