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OSCON 2009: How Intel Designed Netbooks For Fast Starts

The next step for netbooks may be open source code that exploits the netbook's connection with the Internet and adds telephony services.

The success of netbooks wasn't completely accidental. Intel and other hardware manufacturers two years ago set out to create a low-end, PC-like device that booted quickly and let users get to work without a 2-3 minute wait often associated with other personal computers.

The quick start time of netbooks originally was tied to a revised approach to the boot-up process with Linux since early versions of the device ran the open source operating system. As netbooks have become more widely accepted, they have gradually shifted from a Linux device to a Microsoft Windows device, the operating system with which most consumers are most familiar.

But so far the buyers have wanted the cost of netbooks to stay low, and have been satisfied with low end Windows rather than Vista. Gateway's 2001 LT, launched Monday, is equipped with Windows XP Home edition for $300. Some netbooks come equipped with both Linux and Windows to allow a fast boot option for a quick check of email at the airport or working on a document during a taxi ride.

Dirk Hohndel, chief open source and Linux technologist for Intel, addressed OSCON 2009, an annual convention of open source developers, and said it was a re-architecting of the Linux start up process that gave the netbook one of its most desirable characteristics.

"We know, after all, that we're an instant gratification society," he told about 1,000 attendees gathered at the San Jose Convention Center Wednesday. "If it's more than 15 seconds No one wants to wait until they can do something. Some systems take up to three minutes before you can do anything," he noted. With each step of the boot process, Hohndel said Intel engineers sought to eliminate delays, reduce the number of steps, and minimize the amount of data that needed to be loaded. Delays occur in the start-up process as the netbook searches for its connection to a network server, the CPU does other work in the interim.

Linux on netbooks brings up the I/O system and its file system as soon as possible and does a few other essential chores but very quickly starts offering simple options to the user.

As the start-up process was re-architected, "we asked ourselves, what is the user experience going to be? What things need to be in place for what he wants to do next," Hohndel said.

Changes were incorporated into the Linux kernel to make the boot process work faster for the end user, he added.

Hohndel thinks the next step is for Linux developers to develop open source code that exploits the netbook's connection with the Internet and add telephony services. He said members of the Moblin open source project are working with Nokia to give netbooks their own, consumer-oriented telephony stack, he said.

Netbooks will prove to be more effective than regular PCs as mobile devices, able to link quickly to the Internet or maintain connection as the user moves around, he added.

InformationWeek Analytics is conducting a survey on Windows 7 adoption, to determine whether users are sticking with XP or investigating Mac OS, Linux, or virtual desktops. The poll takes 5 minutes to complete; please participate by clicking here, through July 24.

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