Those frustrating boot-up moments while we wait an absolute age for our computers to load up are set to get somewhat shorter with the impending retirement of system BIOS. Despite now being a very old technology and relatively stuck in its ways, the BIOS is still found in many modern machines. Instead of taking around 25 - 30 seconds before giving the all-clear for an operating system to start, a new kid on the block is well on its way to offering instant-on. It's not quite there yet, but the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is getting closer.

That void before the welcome arrival of an operating system's splash screen has caused frustration and annoyance for almost as many years as BIOS software has been running. The software is stored on a chip that sits on a computer's main board and jumps to life as soon as the start button is pressed. The job of a computer's BIOS (which stands for basic input/output system) is to identify and enable all of the hardware periphery attached to a computer before the operating system starts.

In addition to informing the operating system of the existence of the graphics card, keyboard, mouse, storage and optical drives and so on, the BIOS is also where the system clock is set and hardware is configured by the user. It's been around for a long time, and the once-central role it played in the operation of a computer system has become less and less important over the years. Now, it looks set for retirement.

The computer boot up - the next generation

The system boot upgrade comes in the form of UEFI, which is currently up to version 2.3 and is said to break the ties of being based on the specifications and design of old technology. The Forum overseeing its development includes eleven industry leaders and says it "will provide a clean interface between operating systems and platform firmware at boot time."

UEFI started life as an Intel specification but has now changed into a general standard that offers similar boot and runtime services as the BIOS, but has the advantage of not being specifically tied to any processor architecture. It also has a different approach to dealing with the process of identifying and activating hardware prior to handing over to the OS. For example, instead of telling the operating system that there's a mouse attached to a specific port, UEFI simply recognizes that somewhere in the machine there's a device that behaves like a mouse.

The future-proof standard is already being used in some devices, with 2011 being earmarked as the tipping point for machine domination. More information on UEFI is available from the Forum's website.