Phoenix Technologies

Phoenix Technologies

Infobox Company
name = Phoenix Technologies

type = Public (NASDAQ|PTEC)
genre =
foundation = 1979
founder =
location_city =
location_country =
location =
locations =
area_served =
key_people =
industry = Computer industry
products = AwardBIOS
services =
revenue = loss$60.5 Million USD (2006)
operating_income =
net_income =
owner =
num_employees = 500
parent =
divisions =
subsid =
slogan =
homepage = []
footnotes =
intl =
Phoenix Technologies Ltd (Nasdaq|PTEC) is a creator of computer BIOS software. The chip which contains the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is located on the mainboard, and it initializes before the operating system, and helps the OS communicate with the hardware. American Megatrends Incorporated (AMI) is the other major BIOS creator. Phoenix Technologies and IBM developed the El Torito standard.

Company history

In 1979, Neil Colvin formed what was then called Phoenix Software Associates after his prior employer, Xitan, went out of business. Neil hired Dave Hirschman, a former Xitan employee. During 1980-1981, they rented office space for the first official Phoenix location at 151 Franklin Street, Boston, Massachusetts.

In this same time period Phoenix purchased a non-exclusive license for Seattle Computer Products 86-DOS. Phoenix developed customized versions of 86-DOS (or sometimes called PDOS for Phoenix DOS) for various microprocessor platforms. Phoenix also provided PMate as a replacement for Edlin as the DOS file editor. Phoenix also developed C language libraries, called PForCe, along with Plink-86, an overlay linker. These products only provided a small revenue stream to Phoenix during the early 1980s and the company did not significantly expand in size.

With the success of the IBM PC in 1983, Phoenix decided to provide an IBM PC compatible ROM BIOS to the PC market. A licensable ROM BIOS would allow clone PC manufacturers to run the same applications, and even the MS-DOS that was being used by IBM. However, to do this Phoenix needed a strategy for defense against IBM copyright infringement lawsuits. IBM would claim that the Phoenix programmers had copied parts of the IBM BIOS code published by IBM in its Technical Reference manuals.Fact|date=August 2008 Because, due to the nature of low-level programming, in two well-written pieces of code that perform the same function some correspondence is inevitable, it would be impossible for Phoenix to defend itself on the grounds that no part of its BIOS matched IBM's. Phoenix developed a "clean room" technique that isolated the engineers who had been contaminated by reading the IBM source listings in the IBM Technical Reference Manuals. The contaminated engineers wrote specifications for the BIOS APIs and provided the specifications to "clean" engineers who had not been exposed to IBM BIOS source code. Those "clean" engineers developed code from scratch to mimic the BIOS APIs. This technique provided Phoenix with a defensibly non-infringing IBM PC-compatible ROM BIOS. Because the programmers who wrote the Phoenix code had never read IBM's, nothing they wrote could have been copied from IBM's code, no matter how closely the two matched. [] The first Phoenix PC ROM BIOS was introduced in May, 1984, and helped fuel the growth in the PC industry.

The availability of a IBM PC-compatible ROM BIOS helped fuel the 70% increase in sales that Phoenix experienced in 1988. Phoenix also developed IBM Personal System/2 Micro Channel BIOS, including the ABIOS, and EISA compatible BIOS during 1988 and 1989.

In 1987, Phoenix began the first of many expansion, acquisition, and collapse cycles. It acquired Softstyle, Inc, and Softset, Inc, and began a printer emulation product line, and a Phoenix publishing division. Phoenix also tripled the number of employees from late 1986 to 1989.


Phoenix launched an IPO in June 1988 and made the founder and early employees instant millionaires on paper. The stock price did not sustain its peak of 18 3/4, and by late 1989 it had plummeted to 3 3/4. In addition Phoenix posted a loss of $7.7 million dollars in 1989, due primarily to the consolidation of the PC market, and Phoenix's unsuccessful branching out into collateral markets. After that, Ron Fisher took over as CEO and Phoenix again focused on the core PC BIOS products, and prevented a hostile takeover bid by Norwood Partners Limited Partnership.

1990s expansion

By 1992 Phoenix was financially healthy enough to start another expansion and acquisition cycle. In 1992, Phoenix acquired Quadtel, a leading BIOS supplier. The Quadtel BIOS code base was newer than the original Phoenix ROM BIOS code base, and the development effort switched to the Quadtel products. It was rebranded as PhoenixBIOS. The original ROM BIOS code base was used on a joint development effort with IBM (called SurePath(tm)), but Phoenix did no further development work on the original code.

Phoenix also expanded its presence in foreign markets. In 1993 Phoenix acquired SRI KK, a Phoenix distributor, and formed the Phoenix KK Japanese subsidiary. In addition, the offices in Taipei, and Europe were expanded in size. In 1994, Phoenix acquired UK-based DIP Research and continued to expand European operations. In 1996, Phoenix acquired Virtual Chips, Inc., a maker of synthesizable cores for PC peripherals, and Mountain View, California-based Award Software in 1998. Due to this Phoenix reduced its global work force by 5% by ending 38 jobs. [" [ PHOENIX TO CUT 38 JOBS, TAKE CHARGE FOR RESTRUCTURE.] ." "Computergram International".]

2001 consolidation

Phoenix continued to grow steadily from the late 1990s, and saw a significant increase in revenues from the Y2K product refreshes in the PC industry. However by mid 2001 the PC industry suffered another downturn, and Phoenix was forced to reduce the less profitable product lines, such as the IA64 effort, and close a number of redundant offices. Phoenix again focused on the core BIOS business for the next few years.

2003 expansion

During late 2002 and 2003, Phoenix began to develop specialized firmware based applications. These applications often had components embedded in the BIOS that allowed them to function in damaged PC systems. These included security applications for password hiding and authentication, PC backup and recovery applications, and basic diagnostic applications. Several applications were obtained through complete acquisitions of other companies, such as the SPEKE technology from Integrity Sciences, or the browser technology from Ravisent.

The PC BIOS business continued its steady, but slow, growth despite a rapidly declining unit price. The Award product line was focused on the low-margin, high volume Desktop product line, while the Phoenix TrustedCore BIOS was primarily successful in the high-end PC systems, and Servers. The revenues from the BIOS business continued to provide the capital to invest further in the applications business.

2006 consolidation

By late 2005, it became clear that the BIOS revenues could not sustain the losses incurred by the applications business. The BIOS revenue stream was heavily leveraged through fully-paid-up licenses, and by early 2006 this business model was no longer sustainable. Phoenix announced some of the largest losses in the company history, and went through another consolidation cycle. Several offices were closed and over 30% of the employees were laid off. By late 2006, after senior management changes, the company refocused on the PC BIOS business and the few potentially profitable applications.


ee also

*American Megatrends
*Insyde Software

External links

* [ Phoenix Technologies Official website]
* [*/ Archives of AwardBIOS motherboard download page]

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