'Instant On' could be a winner for MS

Feature rumoured to be included in Windows 7

You arrive at work, ready and raring to go, and sit down at your desk.

There are many things you have to do, from checking email to scanning various websites to updating that project you’re working on in Microsoft Word. But before you do any of those tasks, there’s a surprisingly long, drawn-out process that needs to be gone through.

It generally involves manually switching your PC or laptop on, waiting for Windows to load, then waiting again while your network connections are established, then entering a Windows password and waiting a few more seconds for access to the OS.

Then, in order to access various apps on the desktop, there are more annoying delays while they load, and more passwords need to be entered.

The passwords are part of the necessary security procedure, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to surf the net or access a restricted range of apps while the full set of apps is loading?

That’s what a project Microsoft is working on — called Instant On — may allow.

Redmond recently surveyed some users about the project, and the details found their way to the Engadget blog.

Microsoft is being pretty guarded about the whole thing, but notes that Instant On “takes your computer from being completely powered down or ‘turned off’ to being usable for a few specific activities in a very short amount of time”.

Presumably, the idea is that this limited functionality can be used while the full OS is loading, sparing users those awkward few minutes during which they have to find something else to do while Windows loads.

“Instant On” access is an idea so brilliant you have to ask “Why hasn’t someone thought of it before?”

Well, some have — Dell has a product called Dell MediaDirect with Instant Office, which allows users of its Vostro notebook range to access their files, multi-media, contacts and calendars on their laptop within seconds.

(Dell is also planning an Instant On-type feature for its Latitude laptop range).

According to Dell marketing material, “The ‘instant office’ capabilities of Dell MediaDirect enable you to use Vostro notebooks as mobile productivity and entertainment hubs anywhere you are.”

And this is the really good bit: “Without having to waste precious minutes starting Windows, Dell MediaDirect allows you to view Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express contacts and calendars, in addition to playing music, photos and videos stored nearly anywhere on the computer — in just seconds.”

Dell has another similar product, for another of its notebooks, and users of Asus and Voodoo laptops can take advantage of similar technology from start-up DeviceVM that also allows instant access to certain applications.

Phoenix Technologies has been active in this area since 2004, that year releasing FirstWare Assistant, that allowed users read-only access to calendar, contacts, notes and Outlook mailboxes at the tap of a laptop key, without booting up Windows.

Most of the above-mentioned products use Linux-based tools that access the laptop’s BIOS. On the internet, there’s speculation that Microsoft’s seeming reluctance to offer an Instant On service in the past may be due to the fact that existing tools that enable such functionality are mainly Linux-based.

For example, the DeviceVM product that is embedded into certain Asus and Voodoo laptops is a “Linux environment stored in the flash memory usually reserved for the motherboard BIOS”, according to www.linux.com.

Some cynics have pointed out that Microsoft and Intel have talked about Instant On-type features for years, but that nothing has come of it so far.

As John Lettice noted in The Register in 2003, “Every couple of years, somebody from Wintel or thereabouts touts the prospect of a PC that comes on instantly, at the touch of a button, but then it doesn’t happen, so it can be talked up again in another couple of years.”

Lettice went on to say: “The reason consumer electronic devices generally start up as soon as you press the button is because they’re single- or restricted-task devices. Their software is already loaded and ready to go when you select from an extremely restricted number of choices.

“PCs, on the other hand, are general purpose devices which reconfigure themselves (ie load software) depending on which of a wide and extensible range or requests you make.”

Just to be reiterate, with Instant On and its existing laptop counterparts, we’re not talking about an OS that loads really quickly, but about a workaround that allows limited access to certain apps and, you would hope, the ability to utilise those limited apps while the full OS is loading.

Even given the limitations of a few select functions made possible by a special function that accesses the BIOS — which means no upgrades, patching or many other things that can be done when the full OS is running — Instant On would be a much-welcomed advance, and would have great appeal to millions of frustrated Windows desktop users.

While Microsoft isn’t letting on too much about Instant On, there’s speculation that it may be an option with the upcoming Windows 7 OS, which is due for release late next year or early in 2010.

If Instant On is going to be part of Windows 7, then Microsoft is on to a winner. It’s not hard to picture countless users, tired of not being able to use their PC in any meaningful way while Windows loads, pushing their IT department to upgrade to Windows 7 so that they can use Instant On.

That could really drive Windows 7’s adoption rate, making it a bigger success than Vista, which has proved to be something of a fizzer in terms of uptake since it was released last year.

Instant-on Dell laptop to debut soon

Consumers will soon get their first look at Dell's new instant-on system for Latitude laptops, a company executive said Wednesday in Shanghai.

Dell is promising "multi-day" battery life for new models of its Latitude laptops. The instant-on feature is called Latitude On. Clarke said only that Latitude On was "coming soon."

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