I have a quad-core CPU, super-fast hard disks and heaps of RAM – Linux is already pretty darn nippy if you ask me!
Perhaps. But, let's face it: if it takes more than 30 seconds to get from pressing the power button to you reading your email, that's 30 seconds you could have spent chatting to the pretty lady in the cubicle next to you, reading the latest XKCD comic or – most importantly of all – basking in the glow of the most recent issue of Linux Format magazine.
Oh come on, 30 seconds isn't that long a time it's only half a minute! Besides, I think she's already married…
30 seconds is a long time if you're travelling with a laptop and have to boot up and shut down 20 times a day just to check and send your emails.
Wait… 30… times 20… that's eight minutes!
10, actually. During that time all you're doing is watching a progress bar creep up slowly – and it's even slower if your off-to-typing time is over 30 seconds. Remember, quad-core chips are pretty much desktop only right now, and most mobile CPUs underclock themselves on the move to save power, making boot times easily over a minute (and sometimes two minutes!) for a lot of people.
Bah… I was going to say that the solution was to upgrade to an dual-chip quad-core CPU, giving me eight cores in total!
Throwing more power at the problem is just a waste. I mean, do you really need all of KDE's might just to do a few minutes of web surfing?
OK, you've got me, and I can tell that you're just dying to start talking about this Splashtop thing. So let's get it over with: What on Earth is Splashtop?
I'm glad you asked! Splashtop is a Linux distribution designed to fit on a single memory chip that's built into a motherboard. It doesn't override whatever OS you've installed on your hard drive, meaning that you can have your normal "fat" Linux installed and working as per normal, then reboot into Splashtop as and when you need to. It's all in hardware, which means it's almost instant-on – the average boot time is around five seconds. That's about as fast as it takes Linux to come out of a deep sleep, so you might as well just turn all your computers off.
But, but, but… I like to tinker with things. I like to have the absolute latest build of Firefox. I like having to fix things until they break!
And that's one of the reasons why your boot time is so bad! Think about it: Splashtop is a system you never need to upgrade, you never need to re-install, and you never need to fsck. No matter what you do to your main Linux install, Splashtop carries on working, carries on booting at speed, and carries on being perfect for quick tasks on the web.
You don't seem convinced. We're talking speed, we're talking security and we're talking stability, all in one!
Yes, but I'm not sure I could just live on Firefox…
Well, think about it – once you have Firefox, you have MySpace, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, BBC News, Slashdot and any other favourites of yours. All together means you have your friends, you have information, and you have entertainment. You can even use things like Google Docs to read and write Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, create calendars and more.
I know, I know. But if I'm going to use any operating system, it needs to have more than Firefox, it's that simple.
Then it's lucky for you that Splashtop also includes Skype, a media player, a photo manager and an internet chat client.
I thought you said it was mostly read-only? How do I get my music into Splashtop?
Well, remember that Splashtop is a full Linux system deep down, and that means you can read files straight to your hard drive if you want to. It also means it's got a fully featured networking stack – you can use ADSL, WPA2 Wi-Fi, or whatever else your hardware supports.
OK, presumably that means I can upload and download files as needed?
Sure, but you need to think a little bigger: because Splashtop gives you full access to the web, you actually don't need a hard drive at all. In fact, if your computer has a USB slot, you can kiss goodbye to your hard drive completely and store everything on a USB stick. The advantages are clear: extreme speed, extreme portability, and yet all the internet you want. What's not to like?
I'm sure I'll think of something. What about if I want to video-conference on the move, being the executive-type that I am?
I've already told you that Splashtop has Skype, and it's not some half-baked version of Skype, either – it's the full thing, including support for SkypeOut.
OK, you've almost convinced me to part with my cash. How do I go about buying this Splashtop?
Here's the really magic thing: because Splashtop is designed to be embedded, many motherboards are already shipping with it as standard. It's not something you buy and plug in, it's something you just get whether you know about it or not.
Whoa… so I could have Splashtop right now and not even know it?
Possibly, but it is fairly new, so it's unlikely. The leading manufacturer behind Splashtop is Asus, which originally put it on all its premium motherboards. But then the company announced it will put Splashtop on every motherboard it creates – and that's a lot of motherboards!
So millions of Windows users will have Linux pre-installed on their machines and won't even realise?
Precisely. Splashtop powers the single-greatest installfest in the history of Linux. Just like with the Eee PC and other netbooks, Splashtop puts a friendly face over Linux, and in reality makes it rather irrelevant that Linux is there at all. All people see is the web, which is all the way want to see – it could run Linux, Windows, or MikeOS behind the scenes, but they just don't care.
MikeOS has networking support now?
OK, that bit was hyperbole, but the point remains: Splashtop works because it lets Linux do its job and stay out of the way.
This is starting to sound like a huge victory for free software…
We don't think it will be long until people realise they don't need to boot Windows at all – Splashtop does everything they need for free, so they can finally step off the proprietary software treadmill.
That's really cool, and I'm definitely interested. Where can I read more?
The homepage for Splashtop is, unsurprisingly, www.splashtop.com; they have movies of Splashtop in action, as well as screenshots and FAQs. If you want to try Splashtop yourself, you can find more information about Asus laptops that ship with it pre-installed at http://tinyurl.com/splashtopasus – although Asus brands its Splashtop implementation as ExpressGate, just to make life more interesting.
First published in Linux Format, Issue 113
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