Versatile Desktop™ through UEFI

Versatile Desktop is the ability to run different business desktops on the same client device. We can already do this easily through terminal services, but only if we are online, and without the full features of the client device such as enhanced graphics or audio.

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) makes it easier than before to run different desktops locally, with the full features of the device. This post looks at how widespread and practical UEFI is as a means of achieving the Versatile Desktop.

We need the Versatile Desktop anywhere that we might previously have used two or more separate physical computers. Examples are:

  1. Television production with a dedicated computer for video editing (no anti-virus) and a standard desktop for other applications
  2. A sales person who is mostly out of the office and needs an unrestricted desktop with admin access when travelling, but no admin access when back on the network
  3. A lawyer with a Windows 7 laptop for the corporate document management system and a Mac for personal use
  4. A software developer with a specialised setup for development tools and a separate desktop for games
  5. A finance department with a dedicated computer and smartcard authentication for a legacy online banking application
  6. A support organisation with desktops on different VPN’s for different clients.

The UEFI standard

The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is an industry standard for an interface layer between the hardware devices and the operating system. Its main purpose is to provide pre-OS services and to load an OS.

So the computer has multiple hardware devices; firmware controls the devices; UEFI drivers and applications perform pre-OS functions and load an OS.

UEFI diagram

UEFI is a replacement for BIOS. The UEFI standard is organised by the UEFI Forum, which includes all major computer hardware vendors. Most new-design motherboards now ship with UEFI support. However you might not notice it because the OEM vendor may stick with using BIOS, or may use it in compatibility mode to work like the BIOS.

UEFI is a technical standard for pre-OS execution, but it also provides advantages to the user:

  • a graphical user interface
  • networking
  • authentication
  • access to applications provided by the vendor, for example hardware diagnostics or device configuration
  • faster startup.

The most important, in terms of the Versatile Desktop, is that UEFI makes it easier than before to install multiple OS’s and to select which one to start. You can have either a default OS, or an option to choose the OS at startup.

UEFI Versatile Desktops

Here are a few examples of UEFI in action.

1. Acer

  • The Aspire One D250 Model 1613 has a dual boot option between Windows 7 and Android:Acer Aspire One D250-1613

2. Apple Mac

  • Boot Camp is the name for Apple’s implementation of loading the OS through EFI
  • Boot Camp Assistant enables the user to install Windows 7 Boot Camp Assistant
  • At startup you have an option to choose which OS to run Boot Camp Startup

3. HP notebooks

  • Most HP notebooks implement UEFI
  • HP System Diagnostics is a UEFI application HP System Diagnostics UEFI
  • HP notebooks can be switched to UEFI Boot Mode (disabled by default)

So with UEFI we can have graphical and networking system applications before the OS runs; a choice between different full desktop OS’s; and perhaps a minimalist quick-starting desktop with access to other remote desktops via Citrix.

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