Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

Summary: Most desktop Linuxes are meant to replace Windows lock, stock, and barrel, but Splashtop acts as a "as needed" replacement for Windows.

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Ever just want to turn on your laptop and get right to work on the Web without any delay? If that's you, even if you'd never consider switching from Windows to Linux, you might want to give the new release of Splashtop a try.

Indeed many Windows users, especially those with newer laptops have already been using the Linux-based Splashtop-they just haven't known it. On Dell laptops, it's called Latitude ON; on HP laptops, it's known as QuickWeb; and on Lenovo IdeaPad netbooks, its Quick Start 2. Whatever the name, it's actually an embedded Splashtop Linux variation designed for quick and easy access to the Web. On each of these laptop lines, and many others, Splashtop is there to make it fast and easy for "Windows" users to check their Web-based e-mail; look up information, write a document in Google Docs, etc., etc. without waiting for Windows to boot up."

Now, Splashtop has made it possible for almost anyone to give this a try with a downloadable version of its light-weight Linux desktop. Unlike almost all other Linux distributions you don't need to download an ISO image of the distribution, burn it to a CD, DVD or USB stick, and then install it on a PC to give it a try. Instead you simply download Splashtop as a Windows installation executable, run the install program, and then re-boot. Splashtop will then appear as one of your boot-up choices. From there, you simply select it and in about half the time it takes to boot up Windows, you're in Splashtop.

There's no learning curve to Splashtop because you'll already know how to use it. That's because the user-interface is Google's Chromium Web browser-the pure open-source version of the Chrome Web browser. If you can use a Web browser, you can use Splashtop.

That's easy to say, but is really that easy to use? I decided to find out. I downloaded the Splashtop installer and ran it on my main Windows XP workstation. This is a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This box has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set. While it runs XP SP3 and every Linux I've ever thrown at it just fine, it's a wee bit low-powered for Windows 7. I also tried it on my tried and true Linux laptop workhorse: a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and 2GBs of RAM.

On the Dell, I had no trouble at all installing it. The one tricky bit is that Splashtop installed itself with the Windows boot manager rather than the system's main boot loader, the Ubuntu's Grub2 boot manager. Most Windows users, who don't tend to use dual-boot systems, will never see this. The only thing that it changed was I had to make two choices, one in Grub2 to get to the Windows boot manager, and then to boot Splashtop itself from the Windows boot manager.

I actually had more trouble getting it to boot on my Mint 10 Linux-powered ThinkPad. That was because there's no Windows at all on the ThinkPad and the only way you can install Splashtop is from inside Windows. I had to actually install XP on the laptop-thanks to my near limitless supply of Windows operating system images via my Microsoft TechNet membership-and then install Splashtop. This isn't going to change. Splashtop officials told me, "Currently, we do not have plans for [making Splashtop available as an ISO image]. The target audience is really people who have Windows on their laptops, and are suffering from slow boot times."

I wish they did make it available in other formats, but fair enough. So was it faster then Windows? Yes, yes, it was. I was up and running on Splashtop in 11 seconds on the Dell, compared to 27-seconds with XP, and in 13-second compared to 32-seconds on the ThinkPad. I then decided, in the interest of completeness to try it on Windows 7.

Page 2: [Splashtop in Action] »

Splashtop in Action

For this run, I used my main Windows 7 SP1 PC. This is a Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's fast, but it's nothing to write home about. Windows 7, with its new SP1 patch applied, still took 32-seconds to boot. Splashtop took, I kid you not, 10-seconds. Neat.

Those few seconds may not sound like a lot, but consider that when you're booted up with Splashtop you're ready to roll. You don't need to open up a browser. The operating system interface is the browser. As Phil Sheu, CTO and co-founder of Splashtop said in a statement, it's "tor people who spend all their time using web apps and services like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox Google Docs and Gmail, adding a fast, safe and secure browser-centric environment to the traditional desktop-oriented environment makes total sense."

Sheu's right. Under the Chrome surface, you'll find the 2.6.32 Linux kernel, while those parts of the interface that aren't Chrome, such as the system controls, uses Qt 4.6 user interface framework. Linux users know Qt best from its use as the foundation of the KDE desktop.

One odd thing about Splashtop is that, although its interface is Chromium, its default search engine isn't Google. No, it's Microsoft's Bing. I guess this is proof that not only can Linux and Windows get along with Splashtop, so can Google and Microsoft.

Splashtop doesn't have any native applications beyond the browser itself. It does, however come with core browser plug-ins such as Adobe Flash. You're not limited to "pure" Web applications though. You can also add Web-based applications from the Chrome Web apps Store.

I should also note, for Linux fans, that this version of Splashtop is not the one that's built on MeeGo. This version also isn't one of the varieties that appear on OEM laptops. According to Splashtop, this is the "only one to-date that uses Chromium and supports the Chrome Web Store." The source-code isn't available yet, but "It will be posted on http://www.splashtop.com/opensource shortly."

So, how does it work other than being fast to boot? Well, it's just fast in general. With a good Internet connection I could see many people using Splashtop as their main desktop. Of course, if your Internet goes out, your productivity just went through the floor, but isn't that true for many of us anyway?

There are some rough edges still. While I had no trouble getting it to work on any of my three systems, some people are having trouble. Officially, there are only a handful of laptops, all from HP, and a goodly, but far from complete number of peripherals that are supported.

In addition, Splashtop doesn't currently support WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) Enterprise security. That means it will not be able to connect to high-security Wi-Fi corporate networks. You're also, for now, limited to a 1024x768 display.

Personally, I don't think these are major problems. I've been enjoying using Splashtop, and I'm going to keep it around on at least one of my PCs-probably the XP desktop. It's fast, it runs well, and it points the way to a possible future where we do most of our computing on the cloud and the Web rather than on our PCs. I'm not sure that future will happen, but this an interesting look in a crystal ball for computing in the twenty-teens.

If you're tired of waiting for Google's Chrome operating system and want something that's like it but you can probably run on your existing hardware, Splashtop is for you. Also, if you're a Windows user that just needs a quick way to get on the Web, give it a try. I think you'll like it, even if you've never had any interest in Linux.

Topics: Software, Browser, Laptops, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Windows

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108 comments
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  • Sure, when it can run win32 and .net application

    until then, forget it.
    FADS_z
    • How quaint!

      @FADS_z

      So you have absolutely no need for any application that does not exist on a MS platform? I remember those days. I even get nostalgic for the old COBOL applications that took hours to compute what it takes today's apps seconds. But eventually I come to realize that speed is an awesome feature, and that is what Splashtop offers over Windows. And as those speedy apps become available on non-MS platforms, a MS platform becomes less and less necessary. Now I'm not saying not to use the MS platform nor am I saying I do not use it, but I do open my horizons enough to consider the alternatives before making a decision.
      Michael Kelly
      • Linux's largest problem is lack of applications.

        @Michael Kelly: As an OS Linux is just fine. What prevents me from using it on anything more than server systems is the lack of applications. And poor substitutes aren't going to cut it. Until that changes Linux is going to remain a niche.
        ye
      • ye: Lack of applications?

        I think Debian is up to around 50,000 packages now and most Windows apps will run under Wine (there are some exceptions, but they're generally replaceable).

        Try again.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Lack of Applications

        @John L. Ries

        Don't confuse quantity over quality. Not saying that all Open Source is bad as some of it is really good but a lot of it is watered down or less powerful. Also replaceable is in in the eye of the user/organization. Wine may work for many Windows Apps but it only works for a small handful of them well. Not everybody can rely on bronze, and silver compatibility ratings when they need Diamond rating which is full compatibility.
        bobiroc
      • Why emulate when I can be native?

        @John L. Ries: [i]most Windows apps will run under Wine (there are some exceptions, but they're generally replaceable).[/i]

        It never ceases to amaze me the recommendation is to emulate the very product you're advising against. Sorry but WINE is a poor solution and it's foolish to emulate when I could just run native.

        [i]Debian is up to around 50,000 packages[/i]

        Do they have Quickbooks? What about TaxCut? Photoshop? iTunes? Sorry but 50K packages means nothing if 49,990 of them aren't of interest or cheap knocks offs of the programs people want to use.
        ye
      • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

        @John L. Ries
        If Debian does everything you want it to do, run with it.
        daikon
      • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

        @Michael Kelly I've got a hybrid setup at home, the Linux boxes are all Debian based, but I have to admit unless you are familiar with administrating a Linux system it's absolutely a horrible alternative to Windows which is by far easier to setup, use, and deploy software on. Best example? How do you setup three monitors in Windows? Basically plug them in. Linux? Download another driver, configure xorg.conf, configure the driver - reboot - repeat until it works. There is most definitely a reason Linux has yet to become a significant portion of the desktop market in developed countries.
        ITSamurai
      • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

        @ye:

        Wine : Wine Is Not an Emulator.

        Also, most of your software choices suck. I mean seriously, iTunes? Why would anyone want to use a bloated ~100 MB software just to manage music, when Floola can do it in ~10 MB. Ok so you can buy music from iTunes, but that doesn't need 90 MB. If you integrate a web-interface you can add that functionality in just under a couple of MB. Also, GIMP is a pretty good alternative to Photoshop, I mean given the huge number of features it offers for FREE. Good value for money, don't you think?
        [deXter]
      • 100MB isn't really that large for most people..

        @deXter

        ..in fact, I doubt that most users don't really even notice the 100MB hit these days, considering even the most conservative music-listeners have multi-gigabyte libraries..

        If I went from iTunes to Floola using your reasoning, I would now have 350.09GB free instead of the 350GB free that I have on my hard drive now.. Naw, don't really miss that extra 90MB.
        daftkey
      • Where did you get the dumb idea that COBOL applications took "hours"

        versus "today's" apps?

        You're very likely very ignorant about the capabilities of COBOL and never coded a single line in the language, or, you're just making stuff up to try give more credence to your argument.
        adornoe
    • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

      @FADS_z
      Why bother? linux sucks!!
      Hasam1991
      • How profound

        @Hasam1991
        A few more comments like that and Linux is sunk for sure.
        John L. Ries
      • Yeah, let's all run back to Micro$oft

        @Hasam1991 says [i]"Linux sucks!!"[/i]

        That must make it so!

        Run! Run!

        :p
        search & destroy
      • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

        @Hasam1991
        What is remarkable, coming from Windows I had a lot of problems finding things in Linux. Coming from Linux to Windows, I have the same feeling about Windows. There are so many things I can't do in a simple way in Windows. Sometimes I think it is full of teasers, that programs are doing things at their own initiative that I didn't ask for.
        bezoeker
    • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

      @FADS_z That's really not the point of splashtop. Then again you probably didn't read the article....
      snoop0x7b
    • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

      @FADS_z How many win32 and .net applications do you need to quickly check webmail again?

      This is meant for a fast boot into an environment that - quite honestly - fits what most people use their computer for. Checking email, checking the web (IOW, bank account, news, etc.) and being done with it. They don't care if it's Windows, Linux, blah blah blah, it gets them where they need to be faster.

      Now, would I personally use it? Probably not on my current systems. They get up and running and stay that way while I do - well, far more than that. I'd find something similar to fire up on a nettop, perhaps, that wouldn't be used for anything more strenuous.

      I'd be interested to see just how many people actually USE these fast-boot environments, though, versus ignore/remove them to "just get to Windows."
      egmccann
  • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

    Oh. Maw. Gawd. 32 Seconds! The horror! At least you tried Windows 7 out, I thought for a second there that Linux user's love fest with XP was going to kick in and be the only test done. For some reason they still think XP is the only Windows OS out there, and still think it's OK to judge upon it.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

      <br>@Cylon Centurion 0005 <br><br>That is what caught your attention? This grabbed Mine:<br><br><i>" This is a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This box has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set. While it runs XP SP3 and every Linux Ive ever thrown at it just fine, its a wee bit low-powered for Windows 7"</i><br><br>Are you freakin' kiddin' me SJV-N? I run Win7 on an Acer netbook of all things with a one gighz processor and 1.5 gig RAM and it is quite a bit faster than the WinXP that came on it. If the Dell you described is a "Wee Bit" underpowered for Win7 you have got some kind of problem with it (or between your ears, most likely).<br><br>That said, I will give the Splashtop a look, but I am sure the resolution limitations will relegate it to the trash just like every other version of Linux I have tried on my HP DV9000 - I didn't pay extra for a 17" laptop just to run it at a screen resolution popular 10 years ago. Oh, and since NONE of my printers/MFD's have Linux drivers, it will be a 'what you see is what you get' experience, I am sure. <br><br>And to think that I thought this was going to be an unbiased, informative article when I started reading it. I keep forgetting to read the title of your blog before I start reading the story, just like others do with Ed or MJF's posts, and it always gets my dander up before I realize where I am. My fault, I'll learn one day.<br><br>UPDATE - UPDATE<br>Just finished installing and uninstalling Splashtop on my HP DV9817CL 17" Laptop. At the end of installation, the installer notified me that my PC was not on the compatibility list, but that I could try it out anyway. Rebooted, chose Splashtop from the boot menu, booted up and tried to create a task bar (several times), stopped and said my video card was incompatible and rebooted into Windows. About what I have come to expect from all things Linux.<br><br>Oh well, was worth a try.
      babyboomer57
      • RE: Splashtop: Linux for Windows users

        @babyboomer57 The trick is you need to determine how many miles of copper are in your PC, then divide the that by the number of people currently in the state of Nebraska, and finally divide by zero... but seriously Linux toys are fun to play with, but you're right in that they rarely ever work out of the box - and I have a lap top with near identical specs except it's a 2.0Ghz dualie... it crushes 7 it idles around 500MB of consumed memory, which is actually about 80MB lower than what my Ubuntu (LL) system idles at. 99% of the time when someone gripes about Windows it's because of aftermarket bloatware installed by Dell/Gateway etc. and they don't know how to clean it off. My lap's a Gateway that came stock with Vista (that I ran a WAMP stack off of for a while) I spent around an hour getting the garbage Gateway put on off of it and it worked like a champ, most problems with Vista were also, sorry to say - PEBKAC.

        *Edit: And I did time it, my 7 system booted from power off in 23 seconds.
        ITSamurai