How will splashtop change the rules of the game ?

How will splashtop change the rules of the game ?

If you’re into netbooks and latest technology you surely already have heard of Splashtop.

Splashtop's logo

Splashtop is an instant on embedded Linux which boots in seconds (I mean, 3-4 seconds) and give the user fast access to web-based features as Web Browser, Skype, online gaming and similar stuff.

Actually, the most interesting thing about Splashtop is that, being embedded in the computer’s firmware, it does not substitute to the choosen operative system. It’s just a faster alternative to check the mail, and chat with friends.

Also, while the faq asserts the contrary …

Can I boot Windows in the background while I’m using Splashtop?

Currently Splashtop runs separately from your primary operating system. You’ll have to exit Splashtop in order to launch your operating system. The same is true in reverse as well – you will have to exit your operating system (and restart your computer) in order to open Splashtop.

[ from: http://www.splashtop.com/faq.php#06 ]

… an (entertaining) video caught during a presentation shows Splashtop can be used as a temporary interface to a slower loading operating system (like Win.. well, watch the video).


Probs with the video? See it here

As probably every of you already heard about this, I am writing this post mostly to reflect with you about the possible medium-term impact Splashtop may have on personal computing.

Here are some points:

It’s loading fast and it’s virtually immune to viruses(*): that means it will appeal a wide range of computer illiterates, that mostly use the computer to surf the web and check the mail. Also, since it loads instantly, may mean it’ll get occasional use even by power users, in the occasions they just need to quickly check their mail or drop a message to someone in MSN/Skype.

(* not true)

Also, Splashtop is already deployed by a handful of mainstream manufacturers, and certainly other are working to get it on their motherboards as well.

A wide adoption may mean for Splashtop to become the most diffused operating system.

While a Linux based operating system riskying to become a de-facto standard on every computer may seem gold, not everything shines. Reflect: if it’s so cool to have already been adopted and everybody likes it so much, how comes they didn’t patent it ?

They did:

Patents:

Other (unspecified) patents are pending.

This may open the door to yet another lock in scenario. And possibly even worse than the actual force-Windows-on-every-consumer. Thruth to be said, so far, the approach of splashtop toward developers seems much more open that Apple’s and Microsoft’s, but patents always raise concerns, no matter what:

  • as patenting means Splashtop will be the only player in the BIOS-as-OS business
  • or will be anyway more cheap than commercial competitors

So, what make this worse than MS monopoly ? For maybe the first time in computing, patents will be possibly able to completely forbid competition in a non-secondary area. That said, I’m no patent expert and probably over-simplifying, that’s just what popped into my mind when I saw those patents referenced on their homepage.

What consequences may Slashtop have on the market ?

Their browser is based on Firefox. This could set Firefox to surpass Internet Explorer in the browser war by using its same weapon: being already installed when the customer first turns the computer on. If Slashtop succeeds, expect to see a great increase in the Firefox share.

Same effect, but much blander for Instant Messaging protocols, which will now play a fair game thanks to the multi protocol client. Skype, also, may see a little boost over MSN, simply because being pre-installed while – I assume – the multiprotocol IM client installed by default won’t support Audio/Video chat.

While many people point that using Splashtop may bring people more used to Linux applications and thus more inclined to switch, I don’t really think so. The splashtop interface doesn’t seem that similar to Gnome’s and Kde’s, and most of the applications that users will get accustomed to, are present on Windows from a long long time.

How will affect power users ?

Power users with the need of mobility are likely to use it quite as much a beginners. The others maybe be pratically unaffected.

Something that should be noted though, is that Splashtop is upgradable. Thus, probably replaceable. That may open the door to a landscape of hacks and possible integration with existing linux distribution, just to wide to be fully grasped in this early stage.

Still, given the patents concerns, it remains to be seen how legal for a Linux distribution will be to ship it’s own Splashtop replacement. Or how legal will it be for an OEM to distribute a Splashtop-like application in place of Splashtop.

Possible competitors

Dell is working on another approach (and I really wonder if it came out as a workaround for Splashtop’s patents). It will embedd an additional ARM processor in their computers, to run it’s own Firmware-Linux-distro (based on – *surprise* – SLED 10 – with full support for *surprise* OOXML).

Running the BIOS-distro onto an alternate CPU allows for a system that doesn’t need to implement any of the mechanisms described in the “Auxiliaries” and “Appliances Virtualization” patents. Basically, you don’t pay for the patents, you pay for having an additional processor.

Conclusions

I came to none ;-) . What do you think will be Splashtop’s impact on the market ? How will it affect Linux ?

This seems like a great time to subscribe my RSS !

3 responses to “How will splashtop change the rules of the game ?”

  1. Boycott Novell » Patents Roundup: Splashtop Encumbered by Patents, Google Linux Phone Sued by Patent Troll, TomTom Update and More

    [...] took a look a little more closely at Splashtop. He found out that the technology may already be somewhat of a patent minefield. While a Linux based operating system riskying to become a de-facto standard on every computer may [...]

  2. eMBee

    wow, if this is really upgradable that would be cool. i could put whatever i want in there, even run my main operating system on it. really, if i can replace it, why even bother with another OS on the disk? sure extra apps will need more space, but if everything needed to boot fits then that would be golden.

    as for the patents, well, i see the ability to load an OS in that space as a hardware feature, so it should not affect me as a software developer. given that linux is free software OEM wil be able to make changes to the linux version that is being loaded. so i don’t see a problem there either. sure, only splashtop can provide (or license) the hardware needed, but i don’t see that as a big issue, that’s what patents are for.

    greetings, eMBee.

  3. Stefano Forenza

    eMBee: thank you for your points.

    , if i can replace it, why even bother with another OS on the disk?

    I tried to to point out this in my post with “possible integration with existing linux distribution”. That would be so nice to shorten the boot time. And I foresee some nice recovery-mode/safe-mode features as well.
    The upgrade method will depending on the motherboard manifacturer, so I guess it will be hard to find a common way for everyone.

    About the patents, read better, they seem software patents, to me. It’s not really the OS in a BIOS to be patented, but the ability to have an OS in the bios and load the main operating system in background.
    That’s what – I believe – lead Dell to embed an extra (ARM) processor to manage their own BIOS OS.

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