Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

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?

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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, Software, IT Employment

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54 comments
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  • What we used to call...

    ...an 'expert system' back in the 80s. I thought everyone gave up on those. Interesting to see if this catches on.
    rapson
    • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

      @rapson Interesting description. I worked with some of those expert systems. Having a cloud-based architecture is both a strength and a weakness, obviously.
      Ed Bott
    • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

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  • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

    I have to ask, when were PCs frustrating? Can't say I've had any problems with them, then again I know what I'm doing.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Too bad it doesn't work. At all.

    "We're overloaded. Sorry. Soluto will be back later."

    I love the irony of the screen telling me it's not working being labeled, "anti-frustration software."

    Yeah. I feel so less frustrated now that I spent 15 minutes downloading this crapware only to find it's broken.

    D-lete.

    Whew. My frustration level just declined markedly.
    giftzwerg999
    • I understand your frustration

      Really, calling it "crapware" because their servers were temporarily overloaded in the half-day after launch seems a little harsh, especially for a new produc that is in beta. I was unable to complete the analysis on one test PC until a few minutes ago. But it didn't interfere with anything else I was doing. I just came back to it later.<br><br>I have talked to the folks at Soluto and they are working on both server capacity and on more informative error messages.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

        @Ed Bott Edd I haven't been able to get this to work for two days on an XP SP3 system as well as a Windows 7 64-bit system. Maybe crapware is too strong but frustration is definitely warranted.
        rjohn05
      • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

        @Ed Bott I have to agree, I, we, use Soluto with all the PCs in our shop as well as on all PCs we work on, as a guide. Most of our customers complain that their computer takes to long to boot, so we use Soluto to let us know whats going on in the least amount of time, which ends up being cheaper for our clients, they seem to like that fact.
        I use it on my personal gaming machine which started at an avg. boot time of almost 4 min. after running Soluto and tweaking the start-up using it, i got the boot time down to about 1.5 min.... If the folks at Soluto charged $20 I'd pay it. it's totally worth it. calling it "crapware" seems harsh, especially since it was intended to be more of a guide and not a "one-click-fix" I fell the software does exactly what it was built for.... The following coment is directed to Mr. Roee Adler from Soluto, I would give your product a 9 out of 10, It would be a 10 if it wasn't for the fact that some of my processes cant be stopped. With some time though I'm sure that will be resolved since the users can add reviews and make recommendations based on their experience.. KUDOS to you sir.
        MegaByteME
    • Everything is up again (Soluto's apology)

      @giftzwerg999 sorry for this experience, we were overwhelmed with traffic (that's no excuse, I know). Everything is working properly now, I would love to hear what you think. if you have any problems using our software you can contact me at roee@soluto.com.
      Roee Adler
      • Soluto Rocks, and I don't care what people say

        @Roee Adler I would give your product a 9 out of 10, It would be a 10 if it wasn't for the fact that some of my processes cant be stopped. With some time though I'm sure that will be resolved since the users can add reviews and make recommendations based on their experience.. KUDOS to you sir. ..... you can see a long response and opinion from me a few posts up..
        MegaByteME
  • Right now it is very frustrating

    Maybe they are having too huge a launch, as the app gets stuck consulting the PC genome and then analyzing. The concept surely is interesting, but seems some time for the server overload, they seem to be having, to be overcome is needed...
    ruirib
  • All this attention crashed their servers

    They should let their software work even if the Internet or their servers are too busy. It sucks to have a utility totally dependent on the cloud.
    georgeou
    • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

      @georgeou The problem with that is it requires downloading definition files, which are the curse of security software. What you're seeing right now is what happens to every startup that launches at a high-profile tech conference. Ironically, I can't update this post because the ZDNet WordPress editor is temporaraily offline.
      Ed Bott
      • Sorry, but I'm not impressed.

        @Ed Bott I would argue that the real problem here is that it's badly programmed. I mean, an infinite loop labeled, "analyzing?" Seriously? It's not so much that the badly miscalculated the serverscape necessary to update the thing, it's that the thing is too damn dumb to figure out that something's gone badly awry with itself.

        Moreover, this is designed for *naive* users, not systems pros who already know chapter and verse on every process and service running at boot. I'll give you odds that there are people - right now - still staring at that "analyzing" dialog and wondering if they dare start fumbling around to kill Soluto ... or if they'll hose their system if they try.

        Even worse, the guy this product is aimed at is the last guy who'll ever bother with it again. The Ed Botts and Paul Thurrots of the world will try again tomorrow. My sister won't.

        Good idea. Someone let me know if they ever manage to get it anywhere near right.
        giftzwerg999
      • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

        @Ed Bott If it downloads definitions then if you have the latest definitions when the server is bogged down or even down the program should be able to run and when the server is available just send the files over, analyze them then send you the results right?

        The problem it is having would only be if its like a cloud anti-virus where there aren't any definitions, it just sends each individual file over, scans it and then sends results back to your system.
        rkegel@...
      • Pre-Reply: Sorry, but I'm not impressed.

        @giftzwerg999
        |
        V
        First of, let me start by saying... don't be so disrespectful. JERK!! second, can you really tell me that you already know chapter and verse on every process and service running at boot" on every PC you work on? Cause if you can maybe you should buy Microsoft and take over the world. Ya, I didn't think so. Well that's all i have to say, (write), it just bothers me when people think they know everything about everything.
        MegaByteME
  • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

    Constantly crashing. Not going further the "Analyzing..." screen.
    eiacub
    • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

      @eiacub It seems to be working now. They were apparently overwhelmed by traffic from afront-page post at Robert Scoble's site.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Can Soluto really make PCs less frustrating?

    Since moving to Linux computing has been way less frustrating. Anytime I have to use a Windows PC... well generally within 5 minutes I am pretty annoyed and extremely frustrated. Microsoft Windows just frustrates the hell out of me! ]:)
    Linux User 147560