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DeviceVM's splash with Splashtop

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Sometimes the world changes – again – and hardly anyone notices. As a case in point, we bring you DeviceVM.

This week the Silicon Valley start-up began touting Splashtop – a type of instant-on software package for helping users route around slow operating system boot times. With Splashtop, you hit the power button and gain almost immediate access to things such as browser (Firefox), VoIP software (Skype), DVD player, music and photos.

The applications for this type of software stretch across a wide range of consumers. You can see someone checking their web mail via Splashtop, firing up a movie on a plane or dumping their latest set of photos onto a machine without wanting to bother with the tortuous Windows boot experience and its associated power suck. (And, of course, Mac and Linux users can benefit as well, although they're less plagued than Camp Bill.)

(View Splashtop in action here.)

We've seen rapid boot type systems before with Be providing a full, quick operating system and companies such as Microsoft and Phoenix working on displays that sit on the outside of laptops or even purses, pushing out e-mail, for example.

With DeviceVM, however, you'll discover a company that may have found the right approach for the right time.

BeOS, while magnificent, just couldn't find a broad market for a variety of reasons, and the Microsoft/Phoenix set has moved painfully slow their technology. (Your reporter, for example, embarrassingly published a story for The New York Times in 2004 that promised the quick access technology would ship broadly in 2005. Shameful.)

These days we discover companies such as HP and Dell trying to do all they can to find a differentiator in the PC market. With Splashtop, the PC makers could craft their own instant-on start-up screens, pointing customers to different tools. In addition, they could offer some interesting support services since Splashtop runs in memory and would allow access to a machine even when OS-level applications had been corrupted. (The Splashtop software is a real-time operating system that sits in the BIOS, along with a thinned down Linux software stack.)

So far, only Asus has stepped up to ship Splashtop with its P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, but we suspect some other players are not far off.

But, er, how did this software change the world and why did no one notice?

Well, okay, the software hasn't changed much of anything yet, and it may not.

But one must suspect that Microsoft is none too pleased to see a plucky start-up trying to gain first touch with customers. It could be very frustrating for Redmond if thousands/millions of users go straight to their Yahoo! or Google e-mail without ever glancing at Windows or if they perform searches via Firefox all day long because that's where DeviceVM pushed them. (Imagine the revenue that DeviceVM – like the Mozilla crew – could make from all the searches instigated via Splashtop. Can you say, "free lunch"?)

Stretch your mind a bit more, and you could see a company like Google pushing its own desktop plans via something like the Splashtop software. Why even bother encountering Windows when you can have an instant-on machine that leads to search, e-mail, documents, photos, music and all the rest? Such a plea won't do much for the office worker, but it could look very nice on a cheap cell phone or Wi-Fi-ready hand-held device.

The early reports we've read from others covering this technology seem to have missed any of these possibilities. And, as of our most recent check, all of about five publications even bothered to pen a story on DeviceVM – something that seems a bit shocking since this has the potential to be front page Wall Street Journal type material. Perhaps the PR folks are content with Engadget for this one.

We've seen the Splashtop software in action, and it boots as advertised. You hit the power button, and the software fires up right away. You can then opt to head toward Firefox, Skype or whatever a particular OEM decides to bundle on a machine or do nothing and allow the operating system to boot as usual. (Go get your cup of coffee.)

The DeviceVM folks claim to have some major intellectual property here and a significant software edge over rivals that might try something similar. We, however, remain skeptical that a company such as Google would have much difficulty mimicking the technology if it really wanted to. We also wonder if Microsoft will tolerate the upstart. Surely, Redmond can convince a chum like HP to stay away from this wee company.

But, without question, this type of technology has been needed for quite some time. It does not matter if it's evolutionary or revolutionary – forgive us. It's simply an obvious piece of software that needed to be worked out. ®

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