How often has this happened to you? You're at the airport between flights and have just a few minutes to retrieve some important online information. You pull out your computer, power up—and wait. By the time you've booted up and logged onto the airport's wireless network, it's time to board the plane.
Slow startup has been a serious annoyance since the dawn of the laptop. It afflicts all systems, though Windows is the worst. Happily, a couple of software companies are selling technologies that let you do some critical work almost as soon as you hit the power switch on your laptop. And there are also some tricks you can learn to improve the situation on your own.
Phoenix Technologies (PTEC) offers instant-on for Windows with software called HyperSpace. It boots a version of Linux very quickly to give you a desktop you can use to connect to a network—wired, Wi-Fi, or fast cellular access such as AT&T's (T) Broadband Connect. You can then run a full Firefox browser, though you cannot use Windows programs such as Outlook.
HyperSpace comes in two versions, HyperSpace Hybrid ($60 annual subscription) for standard laptops and HyperSpace Dual ($40) for netbooks. Hybrid lets you run both Windows and HyperSpace at the same time. That means you can keep Windows running in "sleep mode" while working in HyperSpace. Dual requires you to boot one environment or the other.
I tried Dual on a Lenovo S10 netbook and Hybrid on a Lenovo ThinkPad T400, both supplied by Phoenix. If you want to install either yourself, I strongly recommend downloading and using it on a trial basis before you pay. The system requirements are strict, and the product works on a limited range of notebook computers. (ASUS and Acer plan to preload HyperSpace onto new notebooks; Lenovo will offer the S10 with a comparable rival product, Splashtop from DeviceVM.)
Both versions of HyperSpace worked well, although I found Hybrid more convenient. It connected quickly to a variety of networks, and I was able to watch videos from Hulu.com—a task that requires the ability to run Adobe's demanding Flash software—without problems.
The big issue for business users is what sort of access you will have to corporate e-mail and other assets, such as databases. You can't use a virtual private network (VPN) with HyperSpace, so you'll be able to get to your mail only if it is accessible through a Web browser. The current version of Microsoft's (MSFT) Exchange corporate mail system makes this possible, but many companies haven't implemented the feature.
If HyperSpace isn't the answer for you, there are a few other options to speed Windows' startup. Technically, boot-up time runs only from when you hit the power switch until you get a login screen. You can't do much about this part. But you can speed up the real slog that comes after the login, while you wait for the operating system to load a bunch of startup programs—many of which you don't really need. Microsoft does not make it easy to turn these off, but you can accomplish that with a little effort.
Open the Start menu. In Windows XP, click Run and enter "msconfig" in the window that appears. In Vista, type "msconfig" in the search box. Click the Startup tab in the configuration program, and you'll see a list of program names—which, in XP, are fairly cryptic. In most cases, a Google (GOOG) search for the names will clarify just what these startup programs do, and you can turn off any that don't sound necessary by clicking the check box next to them. Odds are you won't miss them, and if you do, you can always turn them back on.
I think we will eventually see software such as HyperSpace become standard on all laptops. It's a long-overdue step to making on-the-fly computing easy.