Tired of waiting for Windows to boot? HyperSpace and Splashtop can help

A hands-on examination of two Linux-based 'instant-on' environments that live side by side with Windows.

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How well does it work?

On systems equipped with Hybrid, HyperSpace comes up by default when you turn the power on or reboot. If you want to boot directly to Windows, you have to keep tapping until you see the beginning of Windows' wake-up sequence. (Holding down doesn't seem to do the trick.) According to the company, it is working on a release in which users will be able to choose Windows as the boot preference.

On the other hand, Dual now has a boot manager that lets you select between Windows and HyperSpace; if you don't make a selection, it continues automatically to HyperSpace.

Windows boots up in the background while you're working in HyperSpace; if Windows didn't finish booting up when I started the machine, I had to let it finish the first time I switched to Windows. After that, toggling between HyperSpace and Vista via the key was nearly instantaneous.

On the Gigabyte notebook, Hybrid took around 35 seconds to boot, find the Wi-Fi network, open the browser and display a Web site, versus nearly 2 minutes for Windows Vista. Resuming HyperSpace from its Sleep mode took 2 to 3 seconds, versus 12 to 15 seconds in Vista.

In HyperSpace Dual, to get to Windows requires shutting HyperSpace down and selecting Windows from the boot screen. To return HyperSpace from Windows, you do the same -- shut Windows down and select HyperSpace from that boot screen.

On the Lenovo S10 IdeaPad netbook, HyperSpace Dual booted to the HyperSpace desktop within about 30 seconds, found an already-known Wi-Fi network and was displaying a site within 40-45 seconds, versus about 1.75 minutes for Windows XP. Resuming HyperSpace from its Sleep mode took about 3 seconds, versus 8 seconds for Windows from Sleep mode or 30 seconds from Hibernation mode.

Using HyperSpace

The HyperSpace desktop consists of the main Application Display Area, plus an "info-strip" on the left side that displays a Status Panel, Application Panel and System Management Panel. The Status Panel lets you control date/time, network connections, power and volume. The Systems Management Panel helps you change system and network settings, and power down and/or reboot to Windows.

Instant-on
HyperSpace can run either as an alternative boot environment or side by side with Windows.

The Application Panel offers access to sites (via a browser based on the Gecko engine developed by Mozilla Corp.) such as Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, Meebo, FlickR, Amazon, The Weather Channel and Orbitz; your My Documents folder; and (a recent addition) Microsoft Office-compatible word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Phoenix has announced partnerships with companies to include additional applications: Corel (for a DVD player), Yahoo/Zimbra (for messaging/calendaring), RealNetworks (for a media player), Opera (for a second browser) and ArcSoft (for photos and videos).

The browser window is non-resizable, and while you can't open additional windows, you can open tabs, create and save bookmarks, and set a new home page. During testing, I found a fair number of media sites/types that the HyperSpace browser couldn't handle, or handled inconsistently. For example, the Gigabyte notebook loaded with Hybrid wouldn't play Live365 streaming audio from WUMB-FM, my local public-radio station, although the Lenovo S10 netbook loaded with Dual would, even when it was in HyperSpace mode.

Unlike DeviceVM's Splashtop, HyperSpace has a Sleep mode that preserves your current open apps (such as your browser tabs). According to Phoenix, HyperSpace's resume time from Sleep mode depends on how recently you had been using it; if you'd only shut it down seconds ago, it resumes more quickly. In my tests, HyperSpace Hybrid resumed from near two days' of Sleep mode in less than 10 seconds.

A few problems

I did experience some problems with HyperSpace. For example, on the Lenovo netbook, the keyboard and touchpad would freeze every so often when I had multiple tabs open, or when coming out of HyperSpace Sleep mode. And a few times, the machine gave off a loud prolonged beep. (Powering down via the power button resolved the problems.)

HyperSpace is supposed to, upon detecting something that needs Windows (such as Microsoft Office files) offer to switch over, and open an appropriate application. The feature worked sometimes in Hybrid (occasionally, HyperSpace just hung). In Dual, it didn't work at all. For example, when I tried to open a .zip file contained on a Web site, Dual tried instead to download the file to an inaccessible location.

HyperSpace automatically connects to your Wi-Fi network (once the machine has found the network in a previous session). Phoenix says that HyperSpace will find the "best network available" and switch automatically, whenever possible.

However, I did experience network connection difficulties: While the HyperSpace Dual-equipped Lenovo netbook recognized unsecured Wi-Fi networks quickly and easily, I was unable to get it to work on a WPA2-enabled Wi-Fi network. Once I got the Gigabyte Hybrid-equipped notebook working (for several days, it refused to work with broadband at all and then suddenly began cooperating), I had no trouble connecting to any type of Wi-Fi network.

Despite these problems, it wasn't long before I found myself using HyperSpace for reading Web mail, keeping an eye on my Twitter and Facebook pages, and consuming streaming audio and video (subject to machine and site limits as noted).

Is this all worth $40 or $60 a year? If I traveled a lot and didn't own a BlackBerry or other handheld device for e-mail or Web access, maybe.

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