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A Close Look At Phoenix's HyperSpace

With all the talk there's been about Linux displacing Windows on the desktop, the big question is how is it going to happen? Here's one possibility: it will outflank it. One way this may happen is through HyperSpace, Phoenix Technologies' Linux-based boot environment that could give people one less reason to boot regularly into Windows.

With all the talk there's been about Linux displacing Windows on the desktop, the big question is how is it going to happen? Here's one possibility: it will outflank it. One way this may happen is through HyperSpace, Phoenix Technologies' Linux-based boot environment that could give people one less reason to boot regularly into Windows.

The basic idea of HyperSpace is that it boots before whatever OS is loaded on a given system, and allows users some basic level of functionality, including Internet access. It's not a replacement for the OS on a given computer, but an adjunct to it. In time, though, it could become a full-blown replacement for some people depending on their needs. I've talked before about another, similar technology called Splashtop, but HyperSpace is the first time I've tried something like this hands-on.

Phoenix saw fit to send me two Lenovo notebook computers equipped with HyperSpace, each one a slightly different incarnation of the basic concept. The "netbook" version, which I tested on the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, gives you the option at boot to choose either the default OS on the system (in this case, Windows XP) or to boot into the HyperSpace environment.

Here's a movie of the boot process for the S10. (No sound.)

The "full" version, as seen on the Lenovo ThinkPad T400 they sent me, boots directly into HyperSpace but continues to load the native OS in the background as you work (in this case, Windows Vista). Once the OS finishes loading, you can switch to it and begin working in it as easily and quickly as if you were switching windows. Hit "Sleep" in Windows and you're back in HyperSpace.

In the shot above, notice the little green blinker next to the Windows logo in the bottom-left corner. That flashes when Windows is loading, and turns steady when Windows has finished loading in the background.

The advantages of having a HyperSpace-loaded system become clearer the more you work with it. For one, the total time needed to get to the network is massively improved, especially from a cold boot: you can boot the system cold and get to Web sites in under a minute on both machines. (In all fairness, my current Windows 7 Beta 1 test machine can do the same thing -- albeit from hibernation or suspend rather than cold boot.)

There are still rough edges in HyperSpace, and the makers readily admit to that. For one, many of the environmental settings don't work -- you can't yet change the power options, and the range of devices you can use in HyperSpace is quite limited (intentionally?). But I believe this could become as standard an add-on for notebooks as USB ports or wireless networking.


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