Firmware maker says it could enable dual-boot Windows RT, Android devices

Insyde can provide the boot layer and software tools to make a dual-boot RT/Android device happen, but it needs customers

Tablets and PCs could come with a dual-boot capability to load either Microsoft's upcoming Windows RT or Android, but device makers will need to be interested in building such devices in order for it to make its way to the public, firmware company Insyde Software said on Thursday.

Insyde makes firmware and software tools for the boot environment on PCs and tablets before initializing the operating system. The company can provide the firmware and tools based on standard UEFI boot specifications for the dual-boot Windows RT and Android devices, and the company has seen interest from some device and chip makers, said Aven Chuang, general manager of the PC business group at Insyde Software.

The company's products are used in devices based on both x86 and ARM architectures. Insyde is already working with Texas Instruments to bring the UEFI boot to TI's OMAP processor for Windows RT, and the company's products are also used in PCs from Lenovo, Acer, Dell and other companies. Insyde demonstrated an Android tablet running on an Intel Medfield processor with its boot firmware at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

A dual-boot would give users the option to load the operating system of their choice, Chuang said, adding that if a device or chip maker asks for such dual-boot functionality, it will develop it.

Microsoft developed Windows RT for ARM processors, and the OS is due for release on Oct. 26. Microsoft, Asus and Samsung are due to release devices with Windows RT, and Microsoft is working with chip makers Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments to bring Windows support to ARM devices.

Microsoft has said Windows RT will be sold only pre-loaded on tablets and PCs because of the high levels of software and hardware integration, according to a Feb. 9 blog entry. And chip makers have dismissed the idea of being able to uninstall Windows RT from tablets to install a supporting version of Android.

Qualcomm has said it is up to Microsoft to figure out how to lock down devices. Microsoft may rely on a trusted boot system that could make it hard to swap OSes.

It would be "absolutely possible" for Insyde to offer a boot environment that allows a user to choose between Windows RT and Android, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

"The reason everyone cares about UEFI is it prevents untrusted software from hijacking the system," McCarron said. With the Insyde UEFI firmware, a dual-boot system would come "pre-hacked," McCarron said.

In this case, Insyde would add another secure boot layer for Android in the trusted environment alongside Windows RT. The boot options would be authenticated, making it hard for hackers to subvert the system.

Insyde provides firmware and tools to many top PC makers and might be able to make the dual-boot system a reality, McCarron said. The dual-boot option may not necessarily draw the interest of the end user, but it may attract device makers. Some may prefer to build tablets or PCs with one OS without intense customization at the boot layer, while others may want to offer multiple operating systems for user convenience.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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