Linux is the Engine Under the Hood of Instant On

Thursday Jan 15th 2009 by Paul Ferrill
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Linux-powered "instant-on" environments are the new hot technology. ASUS and DeviceVM led the way with Splashtop, and now the venerable BIOS vendor Phoenix has released Hyperspace, which has some significant differences.

Waiting for a laptop or desktop to boot has to be one of the biggest time wasters for the majority of computer users no matter what the operating system. You would think with faster CPUs that the problem would just go away, but it hasn't. In fact, if anything, it has gotten worse. Larger amounts of system memory have only added to the amount of time it takes the average computer to go from powered down to ready for use.

The ultimate goal of computer manufacturers and users alike is to get as close to "instant on" as possible. While that goal is still a good way off for most operating systems, it has been achieved for a minimal operating environment and made commercially available from two vendors. Both vendors take different approaches to the problem and also take a very different approach to how they sell their products.

Splashtop is a product from DeviceVM and was the first to really grab the attention of the laptop crowd. It comes pre-installed on laptops from Asus, Lenovo and VoodooPC. It's also available on a large number of Asus motherboards and the Asus Eee Box B202. For the developer crowd there is a list of the components used in Splashtop on their website along with the statement that they are building an SDK to make development for the platform easier.

The key to Splashtop's speed is a special piece of code loaded into the system BIOS. That's the main reason you don't see Splashtop offered as a stand-alone product. In addition to the BIOS code there's a small amount of disk space dedicated to the rest of the Splashtop software. Booting into the Splashtop environment gives you a number of options including a Web browser, music player, photo manager, chat client and Skype.

Hyperspace is a competitive product from Phoenix Technologies, the company that makes the BIOS for a large number of the computers and laptops on the market today. Hyperspace differs from Splashtop in that it will install on a local hard drive in a separate partition. It comes in two different versions specifically for computers with hardware virtualization support and those without.

The initial release of Hyperspace has only a web browser application along with support for a number of wireless cards. Phoenix has a list of systems they've tested on their website along with the basic system requirements. You can download the installer which will run a test on your machine and let you know whether it's compatible or not. When I tested it on my Dell XPS M1330 laptop, it informed me that it was not compatible. I'll have to wait to test it on other hardware.

Hyperspace has a neat feature for machines with hardware virtualization that should really appeal to the productivity conscious. It will boot a host operating system, such as Windows Vista, behind the scenes while you use the Hyperspace environment and allow you to switch over to it once it has finished booting. Now you can actually do something productive while you wait for Windows to boot.

One of the biggest differences in the two products is price. For starters, you can't buy Splashtop except as a part of a motherboard from Asus or a full up system. Hyperspace is available as a product, but the pricing model is by subscription -- meaning you have to pay a yearly fee or it ceases to work. Phoenix Technologies does plan to offer Hyperspace with a 3-year option that should keep you going until it's time for a replacement.

Linux definitely has the upper hand when it comes to quick booting environments. The options are somewhat limited at this time, but that will only get better over time. Expect the developer community to get involved once the companies deliver on their SDK promises.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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