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Instant-on PCs Could Take off With Netbooks

Many of us spend too much time watching the Windows boot screen, but that could change as companies introduce small laptops that boot in a few seconds.

Quick-boot capabilities have lingered on the horizon for years, but could finally take off in small form-factor PCs like netbooks and mini-laptops. Without loading Windows, users can instantly surf the Web, view digital images or check e-mail just a few seconds after switching on the netbook.

Lenovo and Sony showed new quick-booting laptops Web access or multimedia at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Lenovo brought instant-boot capability to its IdeaPad S10 netbook. Instead of a full Windows startup, the Quick Start environment allows users to access photos, listen to music or browse the Web in fewer than 10 seconds. Quick Start uses software based on DeviceVM's lightweight Linux OS.

Sony also showed its pocket-sized Vaio P series device that includes quick-boot capabilities. On boot, Sony's Cross Media Bar navigation system provides instant access to multimedia applications and the Internet.

Quick-boot capabilities are particularly appropriate for small PCs like netbooks, which are used more for basic applications like Web surfing and content consumption, said Craig Merrigan, vice president of global consumer marketing at Lenovo.

"The netbook usage scenario is kind of a grab it, use it, put it back sort of situation. We believe it optimizes for that quick boot-type of environment," Merrigan said.

Lenovo doesn't plan to deliver a quick-boot environment for mainstream notebooks, Merrigan said. Mainstream PCs are used for a wider range of applications, including tasks like content creation, which are better achieved by running a full-fledged OS.

"For mainstream notebooks when you are doing a greater variety of things... the quick-boot environment doesn't support that all that well so we think that it's better left to netbooks at this time," he said.

Full-fledged operating systems are cluttered with applications and drivers that slow down PC boot times, said Anand Nadathur, director of product management at Phoenix Technologies, which makes quick-boot software for PCs. Users could either wait and stare at the boot screen, or use instant-on capabilities for quick access to the Internet.

"When users start their PC in the morning, they are not looking for the full-fledged OS to come up and do some amazing things. They just look for a simple browser so they can check e-mail," Nadathur said.

Phoenix introduced its own quick-boot environment for netbooks called HyperSpace Dual at CES. Offered as a quick-boot option to Windows, many of the applications included in the instant-on Linux software are browser-based. It can be installed on netbooks or laptops, and can be downloaded from Phoenix's Web site. It is priced at US$39.95 for one year and $99.95 for three years.

Conceiving netbooks as always-on Internet-connected devices, Freescale Semiconductor and Qualcomm also talked about plans to build in quicker boot capabilities. As netbook adoption increases, the devices will need to start as swiftly as smartphones do, the chip makers said.

Qualcomm wants to add instant-boot capabilities to netbooks based on its Snapdragon platform, which will go into always-on, always-connected netbooks and mobile devices. The platform includes a CPU, 3G modem and a 3D graphics core.

"You can always get your e-mail, you can always open it up and browse the Web because it's 3G-enabled and you have ubiquitous connectivity," said Mark Frankel, vice president of product management at Qualcomm. A netbook will provide instant access to information just like a smartphone, and it will be unlike a mainstream laptop, which takes more time to boot, Frankel said.

Freescale is also looking to add fast-boot capabilities to future Linux-based netbooks with its Arm-based i.MX515 processors, which the company introduced at CES. The company demonstrated an i.MX515-powered netbook made by Pegatron, an Asus spin-off, at the show.

Audiences like teenagers will use netbooks as communications devices to intermittently access the Internet for Web browsing and social networking, said Glen Burchers, marketing director at Freescale's consumer division. Freescale is working with Canonical to develop a fast-booting Arm-derivative of the Linux OS.

"One of the key criteria we have working with them is faster boot times," Burchers said.

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