Splashtop: the pragmatic alternative to ChromeOS

Today I received news of the a new Eee PC range from Asus which will be based on the Intel Atom N450. Two things caught my eye. One was the promise of “up to 14 hours of battery life”. The other was the inclusion of dual-boot. The new range offers both Windows 7 and what Asus calls Express Gate, a lightweight Linux which boots, it is claimed, in 8 seconds.

Express Gate is a version of Splashtop, and is a web-oriented OS that offers a web browser based on Firefox, a music player, and instant messaging. There is also support for:

View and edit Microsoft Office compatible documents as well as the latest Adobe PDF formats

though whether that means OpenOffice or something else I’m not yet sure. The Adobe Flash runtime and Java are included, and you can develop custom applications. Citrix Receiver and VMware View offer the potential of using Splashtop as a remote desktop client.

The idea is that you do most of your work in Windows, but use Splashtop when you need access right now to some document or web site. I can see the value of this. Have you ever got half way to a meeting, and wanted to look at your email to review the agenda or location? I have. That said, a Smartphone with email and web access meets much of this need; but I can still imagine times when a larger screen along with access to your laptop’s hard drive could come in handy.

The concept behind Splashtop has some parallels with Google’s ChromeOS, which also aims to “get you onto the web in a few seconds”. The Asus package includes up to 500GB of free web storage, and of course you could use Google’s email and applications from Splashtop. Another similarity is that Splashtop claims to be:

a locked-down environment that is both tamper proof and malware/virus resistant.

That said, ChromeOS is revolution, Splashtop is evolution. The Google OS will be a pure web client, according to current information, and will not run Windows or even Linux desktop applications. Knowing Google, it will likely be well executed and easy to use, and more polished than versions of Splashtop hurriedly customised by OEM vendors.

Splashtop on the other hand arrives almost by stealth. Users are getting a Windows netbook or laptop, and can ignore Splashtop if they wish. Still, that fast boot will make it attractive for those occasions when Splashtop has all you need; and frankly, it sounds as if successfully captures 80% of what many users do most of the time. Splashtop could foster a web-oriented approach for its users, supplemented with a few local applications and local storage; and some may find that it is the need for Windows that becomes a rarity.

It is telling that after years of hearing Microsoft promise faster boot times for Windows – and in fairness, Windows 7 is somewhat quicker than Vista – vendors are turning to Linux to provide something close to instant-on.