Is Instant-On Chrome OS's Killer App?

It's a good start, though rivals are already delivering it.
It often takes a few long, boring minutes for a PC to boot up, load Windows, open a browser, and finally reach the Web. While Google hasn't said much about Chrome OS's features, one it has promised--and that people covet--is instant access to applications.

"People want to get to their e-mail instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up," Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai wrote in announcing Chrome OS.

However, other companies have a head start on delivering that idea, with Dell, DeviceVM, Phoenix Technologies, and Xandros among those developing "instant on" operating systems built on the Linux kernel that can get people browsing the Web in a few snaps of their fingers.

Dell Latitude ON is available on several Dell business laptop models. It bypasses Windows startup using the MontaVista Linux distribution, customized with Dell's help, running on a secondary processor to give users immediate access to e-mail, the Web, and read-only Office and PDF documents.

DeviceVM says its 2-year-old SplashTop operating system has shipped on more than 10 million laptops from Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG, and other manufacturers. SplashTop is a lightweight, Linux-based OS with a Firefox browser that can boot up in less than five seconds and offers access to the Web, instant messaging, Skype, and some basic gaming.

Instant Options
Users choose SplashTop or Windows; a business version due this fall
Offers instant-on on business laptops alongside Windows, using MontaVista Linux
Touts power savings as well as speed; hopes Google will put some Hyperspace features into Chrome OS
Much has been made of Chrome OS as a Windows killer, but most instant-on operating systems co-exist with Windows. SplashTop, Phoenix Hyperspace, and Xandros Presto all can access the Windows file system in a dual-boot mode and load Office documents. SplashTop users choose whether to boot into Windows or SplashTop. Dell Latitude ON users have a button to load ON instead of Windows.

DeviceVM started offering SplashTop mainly for consumer netbooks, but the company plans to have a business-focused product later this year. Companies are testing it now. Beyond fast starts, it promises energy efficiency and an alternative to conventional thin-client computing.

SplashTop and the like are hardly household names. That's something the vendors hope Google will change. "A lot more people will be looking for instant-on now that Google is jumping into the market," says Sergei Krupenin, DeviceVM's senior director of marketing.

Is instant-on a killer app? It's not enough by itself. But as netbooks and laptops increasingly compete with fast-access smartphones as mobile computing devices, it's a feature they're going to need.

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