Opinion: The Lure of Instant-On (re-post)

Original article: 28/08/2008 In this instalment, the Professor and Alter cross swords over the necessity of windows or indeed, worktops. Sorry, Splashback. Err, Splashtop.

Alter was sat in front of a Google page, tutting.

"What are you looking for, Alter?"

"A firm release date for Vista-2, Professor."

"I shouldn't worry. Most people don't need Windows."

Alter was visibly shaken at my heresy. I continued.

"Really. Most people don’t need Windows. They just need a system that handles basic functions and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg."

"We're back to Linux, then Professor. But you said Linux wouldn't replace Windows."

"I said that users seeking a drop-in replacement for Windows often come away disappointed. Not because Linux is unusable as a desktop, but because it just isn’t Windows to which they're accustomed. It's a matter of expectations."

"Professor, you're not going to give me the same lecture you give every time a friend of ours wants to buy a PC?"

Curses - headed off at the pass. I gave him the short version.

"Three words, Alter;  cheap, low-spec, and limited in function. Okay, seven words."

Alter was evidently perplexed.

"Limited in function, Professor?"

"What's on most desktops? Email, web-browsing and a word processor. Perhaps a photo-viewer application. All the cheap Linux boxes proved they can handle that - Asus EEE PC, the Everex Green gPC - and they offer stripped-down interfaces that are less confusing for new users."

Years of losing arguments had made Alter suspicious.

"But there's still a 93% market share for Windows."

"Expectations, Alter; they could be about to change."


"The Asus embedded Linux deal. Soon every Asus motherboard and a range of laptops will have Splashtop; millions of motherboards every month will ship with embedded Linux. Consider; when you switch on the PC, do you wait five minutes for megabytes of bloatware to load up or do you hit the first boot option and start working in Linux inside thirty seconds?"

"Instant-on technology? On every PC? It sounds good, but surely it's just another novelty."

"You forget today's society, Alter. Same-day dry-cleaning is too slow, one-hour-foto is 59 minutes too long; we want 'drive-thru' fast-food without stopping the car and nothing less than telepathy to pre-order our coffee before we set foot in Costa-Bucks-Republic. Thirty seconds to boot? That kind of time-saving could be habit-forming. We know quite a few people who could live their whole lives with just Firefox, Skype, instant messaging and a photo-viewer. With Splashtop loading from flash memory, they might never boot into their main operating system."

Alter's face lit up with one of his light-bulb moments.

"But who's going to bother configuring two desktops - the embedded Linux and whatever is on the hard-drive?"

"If the the embedded Linux covers what the average Joe needs, why set things up twice? Of course, it should be possible to cheat a little and store your config' files on a shared partition somewhere, should you need them. That could be the acid test."

I sat back and allowed myself a smug moment.

"Why, Professor - you seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about something. Do you have no reservations?"

"Only one. Could they not have thought of better name than Splashtop?"