Friday, 25 February 2011

Time not saved

I'm delighted with the eleven inch HP ultra-mobile PC I bought to accompany our travels to Canada - just one size up from a Netbook, and not quite large enough to be called a Notebook, this form factor has been oddly dubbed the Notbook. It was inexpensive, has decent battery life, runs Windows 7 well and boots fairly fast, but not really fast enough for me. I have a tendency to switch my computer off when not in use, rather than put it into suspend or hibernate mode when not in use, to avoid wasting charge.  I do this with cameras too. Perhaps if the machine had a twelve hour battery life rather than four, I'd change my habit. Needless to say, I boot the machine to use it half a dozen times a day, and find the couple of minutes wait quite frustrating.

I could just as easily get what I need from a decent smartphone, with startup times of a few seconds, but I have no real use for expensive small technology which can easily be dropped, lost or stolen. I can't wait for the day when all small portable computers will be driven by software that makes them active in seconds. Toshiba produced a netbook last autumn deploying a version of the phone operating system Android, with a start time of five seconds. I saw one in a department store in Geneva, but have never seen one in the UK. It was panned by tech reviewers, for serious flaws in its engagement with web documents that would restrict its usefulness. Maybe it will surface when machines with another new generation of chip technologies appear later this year.

In the meanwhile, I decided to explore the Spashtop technology, which appeared on Atom based machines several years ago, and was launched last month as a free download for use on any PC. This is a cut down, dedicated version of Linux which can be installed within the existing operating system to give dual boot capability. At startup, Splashtop can be selected instead of the usual operating system. It boots the machine in ten seconds to a browser window giving full internet access, email and Skype phone calls. It's a brilliant idea, and it works very well, except that it's still a product in development. Some computer hardware specifications are fully supported, others not. Mine works perfectly, tethered to an ethernet cable, but its wifi link doesn't work making me less mobile than usual. The Splashtop technical help forum is full of posts from users asking what to do. The response is like a litany - We're working on it. 

Evidently they've moved to soon to market the product. It's not unusual for versions of Linux to have problems relating to hardware drivers, yet the Open Source Software community produces solutions for most of the issues arising with commonly used components. I wonder if the Splashtop team realised the extent of the range of machines users would want to try out their product on? It was particularly annoying to be informed at the end of the installation process that my machine was not one of those currently enjoying full support from Splashtop. A simply diagnostic tool could have displayed that message at the outset, and saved me the effort. This is most disappointing for such a promising time-saving resource.

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