Katherine Boehret

Skipping Your Computer’s Warm-Up Time

The time it takes to boot up a computer can be a source of frustration — especially if you’re in a rush and just want to log on, get information and move on with your day. If televisions took as long as PCs take to start working, we’d miss game-winning touchdowns. Slow boot-up times are especially common with the Windows Vista operating system.

One way to evade slow boot-up syndrome is to use a special operating environment that performs a handful of basic tasks and works as an alternative to Windows. If installed on your computer, a system like this can start up instantly when you press your PC’s power button — like turning on a TV.

Phoenix Technologies Ltd. (PTEC) and DeviceVM Inc. both offer popular quick-start environments. Phoenix offers two solutions, called HyperSpace Dual and HyperSpace Hybrid, for five PC manufacturers, including Lenovo, Toshiba and Acer. DeviceVM’s product, called Splashtop, comes preloaded on PCs from Asus, VooDooPC and Lenovo, and each brand calls this feature something different, like “Quick Start” on a Lenovo laptop. I used HyperSpace Hybrid on a Lenovo ThinkPad X301, but didn’t get a chance to try Splashtop.

Closed Windows

It’s misleading to say that the Phoenix HyperSpace products offer a faster way to start up your computer, because they don’t actually open Windows, which is your computer’s heart and soul. Instead, they offer a primitive, bare-bones user interface that relies on Web-based applications. For example, you can send and receive email, but only by using a Web-based email program like Gmail or Hotmail. Documents must be created using a program like Google Docs, and when you watch videos, you must use a player like YouTube rather than something like Windows Media Player or QuickTime. Photos can be viewed either via a photo Web site like Flickr or in the HyperSpace browser. Nothing like Word or PowerPoint is available in this slimmed-down environment.

HyperSpace Dual, which costs $40 a year or $100 for three years, operates only one environment or the other (Windows or HyperSpace) at a time and must shut one system down to start the other. HyperSpace Hybrid costs $60 annually or $150 for three years and can run both Windows and HyperSpace side by side. Hybrid users can easily toggle back and forth between systems by pressing the F4 key. If your PC meets the required specifications, you can download a 21-day free trial of HyperSpace Dual or Hybrid from HyperSpace.com.

(DeviceVM’s Splashtop doesn’t run side-by-side with Windows, so is more comparable to HyperSpace Dual. But it does have features that are currently missing in both versions of HyperSpace, including a music player, photo manager, Skype and an instant-messaging program that works with popular IM services.)

Though Windows exists on the same machine, its contents aren’t capable of synchronizing with the Phoenix quick-start system. So if I wrote and saved a draft of this column in Windows, and opened HyperSpace on my laptop a few days later, I wouldn’t be able to see my column or any other files on the Windows side. And browser bookmarks don’t synchronize with the HyperSpace browser.

In HyperSpace Hybrid, you can download files from the Web, like photos from Flickr, and save them to a My Documents folder. Confusingly, this has nothing to do with the My Documents folder on the Windows side, and Windows can’t view those files. But anything I download to HyperSpace Hybrid (not HyperSpace Dual) can be transferred to and opened in Windows by clicking an option that says “Open in Windows.” This is essentially using Windows as a viewer.

Using Less Power

In addition to zippy start times, Phoenix claims that its quick-start environment doesn’t use as much power as a full operating system like Windows. According to the company, both versions of HyperSpace are capable of improving a machine’s battery life by up to 30% because while HyperSpace is working, Windows is automatically set into sleep mode, fewer things are happening in HyperSpace compared with Windows, and the processor is operating at a lower speed.

Before I could download HyperSpace, I had to make some adjustments to the laptop’s internal startup system, or BIOS, which I did without much trouble by following some clear directions from HyperSpace’s Web page. I also had to change my hard-disk partition to allow for more room so that HyperSpace would fit. When I finally installed HyperSpace Hybrid, its wireless Internet didn’t work at all, and it also shut down the wireless capability on the Windows Vista side of my machine. Phoenix Technologies said these were special circumstances related to my laptop, and that not everyone would have the same experience I did.

Links to Web Apps

The HyperSpace environment has a left-side panel filled with icons that link to Web-based applications like Facebook, Flickr, Amazon (AMZN) and Gmail. It seems odd that a subscription program comes loaded with what could be seen as advertisements. What’s more, none of these widgets can be removed or repositioned in the panel. And users can’t add their own icons linking to Web sites that they like.

In March, the company says an updated version of HyperSpace will be able to synchronize some information between Windows and HyperSpace, like Internet Explorer favorites, and it will include built-in players for DVDs and music, as well as games like Sudoku. The new version also will let people plug a digital camera into their HyperSpace Hybrid PC to view and save photos; now, USB ports are turned off in Hybrid to save battery life, disallowing digital-photo uploads.

If you dread the time-sucking process of booting up your PC just to do a quick Internet search, you might want to try downloading HyperSpace. But the confusing installation process might persuade average computer users to get a laptop with a pre-installed quick-start program or suffer with slow boot times.

Edited By Walter S. Mossberg


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