BIOS vendor Phoenix Technologies has launched its HyperSpace "instant on" software, which allows a laptop to boot up in less than 30 seconds for basic tasks like surfing the Web.
HyperSpace is based on a compressed Linux OS that boots up while Windows is starting in the background. It connects automatically to any available network and fires up a Firefox-based Web browser to get users quickly on the Web.
First shown in November 2007, HyperSpace is finally available for purchase on an annual subscription basis, Phoenix announced Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Two editions are offered for download from the HyperSpace Web site. A Hybrid version, priced at US$59.95 per year, allows users to toggle back and forth between Windows and the HyperSpace OS. The Dual version, priced at $39.95 per year, allows only one OS to run at a time.
The Hybrid version is for standard laptops and uses the VT virtualization technology built into some Intel processors, such as the Core 2 Duo. It was shown at CES running on a Lenovo Thinkpad. The Dual version is for netbooks based on Intel's Atom processor, which does not have the virtualization technology, and was shown on Lenovo's IdeaPad netbook.
HyperSpace can't access files or applications in Windows. If a user gets an e-mail with a Word attachment while using HyperSpace, they have to go back to Windows to launch Word and view the attachment. With the Dual version, this means restarting the laptop in Windows mode.
But HyperSpace can still help overcome the frustrating experience of waiting for Windows to start up and shut down. Phoenix plans to release new applications for HyperSpace in the second quarter that will be included in the subscription price, such as programs for playing DVDs and MP3 music files.
It also hopes to cut deals with PC vendors to get the software preinstalled on laptops. But it says its goal is to complement Windows, not replace it.
"If we become a heavyweight operating system like Windows then we'll lose our value proposition -- that we're lightweight and can start up very quickly," said Shauli Chaudhuri, Phoenix vice president of marketing.
Phoenix isn't the first to release such technology. For example, Dell offers an equivalent on some laptops, and a product called Splashtop, from California start-up DeviceVM, is available on several laptops from Asustek.
Phoenix says HyperSpace is different because it has aggressive power management features, made possible by Phoenix's access to the BIOS software. If Windows is kept in sleep mode in the background, HyperSpace can extend the battery life of a laptop by more than 30 percent, according to Phoenix.
NPD analyst Ross Rubin said HyperSpace might appeal to PC makers as a way to distinguish their laptops from competitors. But he wondered if consumers will be willing to pay the annual subscription fee for something non-essential. "This isn't antivirus software," he said.
The software released Tuesday is aimed at consumers, but HyperSpace can also be deployed without the user interface for remote PC management at corporations, according to Chaudhuri. It is already being used in this way on NEC laptops sold in Japan, she said.