Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

Summary:A tiny software startup in Israel is trying to make your PC less frustrating. The idea behind Soluto is to use the experience of millions of PC users to approximate the knowledge that a Windows expert gathers by trial and error. Can it work?

A tiny software startup in Israel is trying to make your PC less frustrating. I got a sneak peek at Soluto last month, before its official unveiling yesterday, and I've had a few days to play with their software in advance of this first look.

The idea behind Soluto is to use the experience of thousands (or, ultimately, millions) of PC users to approximate the knowledge that a Windows expert gathers by trial and error. The software—currently in beta and free for the download—runs as a background service that watches your PC as it works, detecting slowdowns and trying to analyze the cause. By comparing those events and possible causes against a database of apps, drivers, and other software (cleverly called the PC Genome), the software can suggest solutions that you can implement with a click or two.

The company's long-term goals are ambitious, but it's starting with the simple, manageable task of speeding up overly long boot times. When I installed Soluto on a couple of test PCs running Windows 7, I got to see this process in action. It analyzed the boot process and then divided the software involved in each step of the startup process into three groups, as shown here (click to see the full-size image in its own window):

For each software component in the top two lists, it offered the option to pause the automatic startup process or delay it. Choose the former option and you'll experience a faster start but pay a (presumably slight) performance penalty later, when you start the program manually. You can also delay the auto-startup, giving you a more responsive system and queuing up the autostart tasks to run later, when the PC is under less stress and you are less likely to be frustrated by the extra background work being performed.

It's a thoroughly conservative process, with recommendations but no automatic optimizations. After the process was complete, Soluto told me I had shaved my total boot time on the virtual PC shown here by nearly 30%, from 2:55 to 2:07. On a two-year-old physical PC running Windows 7 Professional, I saw an even more dramatic improvement of 37%, from 1:55 to 1:13. A helpful message tells you exactly how much time you've saved.

Of course, all those times are a little misleading. Windows 7 already does a decent job of delaying and prioritizing some startup tasks so that the system feels responsive well before it officially completes all boot-related tasks. On that virtual PC with the nearly-three-minute boot, I was able to be productive less than a minute after startup—launching  programs, using a web browser, and checking e-mail while the system did many of its startup tasks in the background. Still, performance felt snappier and some tasks were more responsive after Soluto had completed its work. I would expect more noticeable performance improvements on Windows XP, which uses a less sophisticated startup process.

The real innovation that Soluto is bringing to the table is in its PC Genome knowledgebase, which still sports an "Under Construction" sign. Eventually, it will consist of a database of applications derived from the Soluto agent installed on users' PCs. According to Roee Adler, Chief Product Officer, the plan is for "a team of analysts to wake up each morning to a list of prioritized applications that need to be mapped," so that they can make intelligent recommendations for which ones can safely be removed or delayed. The PC Genome project will also include a user-editable wiki, with a reputation-based system for moderating and editing user comments.

Soluto's software is lightweight and unobtrusive, although, ironically, it notes that it delays startup by a few seconds. On the two systems where I've installed it, I've seen no untoward side-effects, and its recommendations have been reasonable and conservative.

This is a very clever solution to a genuinely frustrating problem. Time will tell if this startup can build the critical mass they need to be a success. If you try the software out, I'm interested in hearing your experiences.

Update 25-May 10AM Pacific: Ah, the woes of being a cloud-based startup. Soluto's servers are being hammered right now, which means that the cloud-based service is not responding properly and is returning a misleading error message. The company says they're working hard to resolve the issues.

Topics: CXO, Hardware, IT Employment, Software

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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