Are "instant on" notebooks the future?

Are "instant on" notebooks the future?

Summary: Dell has previewed a new instant on technology that allows users to carry out basic tasks on their notebooks without having to boot up into Windows. Is this the future for notebooks?


Dell has previewed a new instant on technology that allows users to carry out basic tasks on their notebooks without having to boot up into Windows. Is this the future for notebooks?

laptop_latitude_e4200_overview3.jpgThe technology, called Dell Latitude ON, will feature on the Latitude E4200 and E4300 in the next few months. It will allow users to have near-instant access to a Linux-based environment that offers email, calendar, attachments, contacts (yes, these are going to have to be cloud computing-based since you're not going to want to have to reenter the same data more than once) and a web browser, all without ever needing to boot into the main operating system. An added advantage of Dell Latitude ON its that it extends the battery life from hours to days. Sweet.

Instant on technology isn't a new thing. Dell Latitude ON is similar to ASUS' ExpressGate or Voodoo's IOS technologies which are powered by Splashtop.

Instant on technologies have a number of potential upsides for the end user. Speed of boot-up (near instant) and increased battery life are two obvious benefits, but there are others. Having your browsing and email isolated from the main bulk of your data is highly desirable (as is browsing within a secure environment that's resistant to malware such as keyloggers), as is having access to an environment that's resistant to being crippled by a dodgy driver or misbehaving software could be very useful at times.

If I think about my normal notebook usage patterns, I'm pretty sure I could spend a good 80 - 90% of my time in the instant on environment and only boot into Windows when I needed to do something specifically Windows-centric. In fact, given a properly set up Linux distro as the main OS (which should be a snap to set up since these systems would/should already be Linux-compatible because they are running the Linux-based instant on OS ) which would allow me to handle Microsoft Office docs, and a VPN, I could do away with having Windows on the system altogether and simply connect to a secondary Windows-based PC when I wanted that functionality (when on the road I rarely, if ever, need to run anything heavy such as Photoshop).

The only problem (for Dell at any rate) is that as soon as you start living (and enjoying) the instant on environment, you start wondering whether you need a Dell at all and whether what you really need is something like the ASUS Eee PC.

Given all the attention that instant on is getting, how long until Microsoft develops a similar environment (think cut-down Windows Mobile)? ASUS' ExpressGate is already bringing a lightweight Linux environment to millions of ASUS motherboard owners, and now Dell is set to make this audience even bigger. For Microsoft, all this focus on end user benefit driven by Linux can't be a good thing.


Topics: Hardware, Dell, Software, Operating Systems, Open Source, Mobility, Linux, Laptops, Emerging Tech, Windows

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  • Instant boot into full OS...

    I imagine there has to be a way to perform this instant Linux boot while loading the full OS in the background and seamlessly giving you the full OS functions once its loaded. Now if the Linux community concentrated on that and presented it to Dell I bet they would move on it and stop hiding the Linux laptops deep in the site.

    However your idea could be the future period!!! Have one home server thats always loaded and doing the heavy work while all the other machines are quick booting terminals. Add VPN and you have access to everything everywhere. Need Windows?...Its a VM on the home server that you can remote in to. Hell, I think I'm going to set the house up this way. Now I can leave the VM's off my laptops.

    *heads off to build a new home server*
    • iPhone

      I am already experiencing this instant on with my iPhone. I
      can have my full Mac OS experience with my Macbook air...
      The boot time is amazingly fast... something like 3 seconds.
      Dell is doing nothing new here.
      • Wow, you have an iPhone with a 15" screen and a keyboard?

        No? Well then I guess it is new after all. And of course, before the iPhone, we were all doing the same thing on a PDA of some description, and then on Smart phone. Gee, good thing the iPhone solved all our problems...
      • Why so slow?

        My Jornada was instant on (no slovenly three second wait). It has more screen resolution than the iPhone, plus a stylus plus a keyboard. With an 340mb IBM Microdrive, built in modem and a wi-fi card (once that came out). It could communicate, run the mobile version of word and excel, etc.

        This was all way back in the last century before Apple i products wiped the memory banks of many people.
        • Mine still works ...

          ... I think!
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • HTC Shift with Snap Vue!!!

          Windows Vista Business if needed - Instant ON Windows
          Mobile for anything else!!

          ... and NO, I am NOT affiliated with HTC or Microsoft!

          I own one and it rocks!!
      • My sleeping Macbook...

        wakes up faster than I can open the closed lid,
        after it has been in my travel bag all day or all
        night. For me, and I suspect for most people, that
        is certainly fast enough. I seldom shut down my
        Macs, but just put them to sleep. Unlike many
        Windows machines, I have never had trouble with
        his sleep and wake function of my Macs.

        So what if the computer takes a bit longer to boot
        if that operation is only done once in a blue moon.
      • same here with my iPod touch

        for a lot of common tasks I use my iPod touch where I previously would have used my MacBook pro.

        As you say, its instant on- and more than that, the apps have consistent interfaces, they are usually very easy to use, and there are hundreds of them with more being added every day.
    • (Almost) Instant On Already Exists

      Using the hibernate feature, you can create a boot image then change your kernel command line to always load that image. It's probably not as fast as these new laptops are doing but you get taken directly to your desktop with all the applications already running. Just make sure any settings you change get saved back to the image or things could get wonky.

      A quick Google tells me this could do the trick:
      • Confused...

        Isn't there already the hibernate feature on most distros? Hibernate has never been worth it to me on any OS so I have rarely used it.
      • (Not) Instant On

        Yes, but hybernate (which I use as well) doesn't mean you have an os in ROM that can't be hacked. I find that to be an important distinction.

        • Hackable?

          It's essentially the same thing. If you have a read-only hibernate image that you load at boot time and if you have your /tmp mounted somewhere else, a simple reboot gets you right back at the exact same image just like if it was stored in ROM.
          • not hackable

            Maybe it's me not understanding this, but isn't this boot os stored in a read-only boot rom? And if that's the case, doesn't that differentiate it from an os (windows) that's stored entirely on disk?

    • TRS 80 Model 100

      The Trash 80 Model 100 is a machine whose time has returned. Add a color screen and a few other things but keep it AA battery powered and get a week out of a set of alkalines and I don't think writers would need much more
    • It pretty much already exists - but OEMs don't like it

      In short, Linux (the kernel) can replace a 'normal' Intel PC BIOS.

      Ever since 1981, the IBM PC (and compatible) has relied on a 16-bit real mode (understand: no parallel tasks) bit of software called the BIOS (Basic Input Output system) which is tasked with initializing disk controllers, setting up interrupts for different hardware, initializing basic I/O ports and memory address ranges for these peripherals... All in real mode.

      For compatibility reasons, the BIOS still starts up a PC this way, and the OS then grabs control, and then does it all again (DOS re-mapped memory with EMM386, Windows NT/XP/Vista switches to 32-bit mode then re-initializes everything, Linux does the same...).

      A project, which used to be called LinuxBIOS (and is now called Coreboot) replaces the Intel BIOS (and its reverse-engineered variants) with a fully 32-bit boot code: while the PC BIOS needs to initialize the hardware before passing the torch to the OS, Coreboot starts the minimum amount of hardware required and loads the OS - which will then proceed.

      Shaving off the whole BIOS stuff at the same time. Several motherboards are supported, and Gigabyte at least has given some official support for it.

      A typical BIOS startup (from power on to OS load) takes up to 20 seconds, while the Linux kernel needs only a few seconds to start; if you do it well, you can have a very basic Linux kernel flashed on the BIOS chip (only needing CPU, RAM and disk controller, then loading the rest from disk) or use a more conventional boot loader.

      Booting up windows is possible, but it is not tested much (very experimental). If you're ready to test, contact the project.
      Mitch 74
  • You are right, MS will not like this at all, though users will probably not

    know that the instant on environment is Linux. Though later, at some point, many will realize that they were using Linux. This is all part of gaining acceptance for Linux - the process of diffusion of innovation.
    • ...

      Slow response times and lack of useful, stable software would help them know they're using Linux.
      • Slow response times, lack of software

        My Linux machine is just as responsive as my Windows machine, the difference being my Linux machine has less RAM and a less powerful CPU. I use the same software in both environments (Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office) and they rarely crash in either. In fact, they crash or hang no more often than Micorsoft Office does (which I use at work).

        Linux has come a long way the last couple of years. I may be done purchasing OSes
        • Stability

          I left Windows about 5 years ago because of all it's problems. M$ still hasn't fixed many of them. I leave my main computer on most of the time and have never experienced a crash. I have had a couple poorly written applications that crashed, but they never affected the OS (I just killed them and deleted them and wen on without re-booting). As far as I'm concerned, Linux is WAY far ahead of Windows.
          • ... Linux is WAY far ahead of Windows.

            Except that the average consumer doesn't have the expertise to install it, or access to their favorite applications, if they choose to buy it preinstalled.
            M Wagner