Embedded ‘Splashtop’ OS loads in seconds to deliver Web browsing, Skype and online gaming
Frustration with Windows’ slow boot times is driving PC makers into the arms of Linux as a pre-boot OS. Most Windows-based notebooks already sport a pre-boot shell for playing music and movies as well as viewing photos, but Asus has taken this a step further by embedding a lightweight yet fully functional Linux-based OS onto its motherboards.
The Splashtop OS, which Asus rebrands as Express Gate, consist of a proprietary real-time ‘core engine’ called by the notebook’s BIOS, atop which sits a highly customised Linux stack. It supports wired and wireless connections and includes a Web browser based on Firefox (with common plug-ins such as Adobe Flash) and Skype for what its creators call “instant Internet”.
“PCs have gotten faster and faster yet PC boot time takes forever, or seems to take forever” observes Splashtop co-founder and CEO Mark Lee, who describes the common daily ritual of starting your PC and then going to fetch your morning coffee while the system boots up.
While the software is available only to OEMs, and lives in a 512MB flash memory chip to which users can’t add applications, vendors can work with Splashtop to modify the build and add modules for quick access to contacts and a calendar as well as playing music, videos and IPTV. Asus’ customisation work includes a photo browser and access to online games.
The ‘desktop’ includes a Mac-style combo dock to launch and switch between applications as well as buttons to set user preferences, load the primary OS (it can also be launched by default if there’s no user interaction with Splashtop within ten seconds of system startup) and shut down the PC. However, during a recent demonstration of the technology Lee showed how Splashtop could use virtualisation to launch Windows in the background while the user worked in Splashtop.
Last month Asus announced it would bake Splashtop into all of its motherboards, which it churns out at the rate of over one million per month, and next week at Computex the company will launch five Splashtop-equipped notebooks.
This could be the start of a worrying trend for Microsoft, which has promised much but delivered relatively little in its efforts to slash the startup time of Windows. Early talk was of Vista booting in one-half to one-third the time it took for XP to get out of bed, but few users have noticed any difference. Microsoft shifted to promoting Vista as an always-ready instant-on device through the use of the new hybrid sleep state (which combined XP’s standby and hibernate modes), and ended up making standby the default action when users attempt to shut down Windows – a process that can also take an interminably long time.
Of course, not all the blame can be laid at Microsoft’s feet. PCs suffer from an ever-growing array of programs which insist on loading themselves at startup, launching little system tray-resident helpers and background processes which gum up the works. Some are almost mandatory in the modern world, such as anti-virus software and other security sentries, but most are just self-important programs clamouring for startup status as if it was the computing equivalent of sitting at the cool table.
But as we’re faced with a faster pace of life, usable time being diced into ever-smaller slices and an emphasis on online rather than offline, more vendors may look to embedded OS solutions such as Splashtop rather than force their customers to wait for Windows.
You can view a promotion demo of Splashtop below: