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Other than greater support for hardware, what advantage or use could an end user (read: NOT an expert) do with an EFI shell or EFI BIOS? I've seen the shell once on my MacBook Pro, but it seemed useless to me, probably cause I don't see what someone can do with it

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efi capable OS can boot faster via EFI than via legacy BIOS, since it does not have to go the whole 16-bit -> 32-bit -> 64-bit route. and installing a new OS creates less driver issues. however, most end users will never install an OS nowadays (or even boot from a removable disk), so I only put this as a comment here, not as an answer :) –  mihi Sep 7 '11 at 16:55

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You're asking about two different things. The advantages of EFI as a whole to an ordinary end user are quite considerable, but they are not of the form where one can invoke something directly and say "that's EFI". They are indirect. Because the firmware is more regular, more self-consistent, and less encumbered by tight architectural constraints, system softwares (that use the firmware) are easier to write, and simpler in operation.

The EFI Shell is only one of the facets of EFI — alongside the boot manager, the partitioning scheme, and the firmware proper itself. The advantages of the EFI Shell are few to the ordinary end user. After all, ordinary end users don't maintain the machine.

The advantages of the EFI Shell are more for system administrators. The Shell comprises a pre-boot environment where a system adminstrator can do basic file, disc volume, and device manipulation tasks. Some of the earliest EFI utility programs for x86 were EFI versions of CHKDSK, FORMAT, and DISKPART. On more mature EFI platforms, the toolset now available is larger. However, the toolsets are aimed at the sorts of things that system administrators need to do, rather than ordinary end users. There are no word processors, for example, but there are tools for editing the raw contents of a file or disc volume in hexadecimal.

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In practice, UEFI is useful to end-users because of capabilities that it enables in the system:

  • Secure Boot requires UEFI. For those who understand the implications of Secure Boot, it can actually be a useful security-enhancing feature, but you can't use it without UEFI.
  • The UEFI Graphics Output Pipeline (UEFI GOP), enabled in very recent graphics cards' firmwares, allows the pre-boot environment (UEFI) to control the graphics card in a much more robust way than the decades-old VESA BIOS. For this reason, the UEFI configuration utilities for modern motherboards can be graphically driven with keyboard and mouse, and look almost as good as a Windows GUI if the firmware authors wanted that. Additionally, UEFI GOP allows the system to boot up faster, because the system can start up in the monitor's native resolution, and the hand-off of the graphics card from the pre-boot environment to the operating system is less involved and faster.
  • You can install an operating system to, and boot from, a partition of greater than 2 TB capacity if you install an operating system that boots from UEFI. For instance, if you have a 4 TB hard drive, you wouldn't be able to install an operating system on a single partition that takes up the whole 4 TB on a regular BIOS. There are certain workarounds available for some hard drives for this, but there are absolutely no workarounds available if the first sector of the install partition lies above the sector demarcating the second terabyte of the disk (the "2 TB marker"). This could be desirable if you have more than one operating system installed on a very large (4 TB or greater) disk.
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