SplashTop Instant-On Web Browsing and Skype

Image: Example desktop running the SplashTop environment I just got off the horn with David Speiser and Sol Lipman of DeviceVM, a San Jose-based company who is promoting their new "SplashTop" platform, an instant-on embedded environment that will first be featured in the upcoming Asus "P5E3 WiFi" motherboard. (If you aren't a build-your-own-PC type, desktop and laptops with SplashTop options should be available in Q1 of next year.) SplashTop is an embedded Linux environment that runs off flash memory (currently 512MB) to present a workable web environment in around five seconds after you push the power button. Currently "workable" means a customized variant of Firefox (with some plug-ins, saved cookies, and bookmarks but no user-added plug-ins) and Skype, the voice-over-IP platform. The idea is not to replace Vista or Linux as desktop OSes, but to provide a quick way to check email or make a call without fully booting into your primary operating system. Think checking your email in the morning, then powering back down, or even booting from SplashTop into Windows. The entire environment runs off the flash memory, not your hard drive, so it should be extremely secure. (Although updates to the SplashTop firmware are currently done through a Windows-based tool, so it's obviously not totally isolated from the rest of the system; still, I don't think an embedded Linux to Vista attack is going to be a big worry.) There is currently no way to launch SplashTop from an already-loaded Windows desktop. Speiser and Lipman asked me why I would want to do that. I wasn't entirely sure, except that sometimes Vista freaks out when I just need to look something up in Firefox, so it might be nice to have an ejector seat into SplashTop when Vista starting sputtering and smoking. That may be coming in future updates, they said. Other applications besides Firefox and Skype may be coming, too, but they will currently be handled through DeviceVM's walled gate. Users will not be able to rewrite and upload their own versions of the SplashTop environment. Even though the SplashTop OS is open source, the hardware and its ability to be updated are locked. Both Speiser and Lipman recognized that was an issue, especially for a hardware platform that could use a boost from user-generated applications, but passed the buck to the OEMs, who they implied required the software locks. "We don't have full control working with an OEM," were Speiser's words. Whoever is to blame, it's a stupid policy; DeviceVM seemed amenable to changing it, but since they're currently at the mercy of the equipment manufacturers, hinted that vocal online statements might help their case. Let me do my part: hardware platforms that don't allow users to alter the software—especially when they run Linux!—are slimy. And in this case, especially dumb and counter to extending the platform. I'm sure there are lots of hackers out there who would find great ways to tweak an instant-on embedded OS. That nastiness aside, I look forward to dinking around with the platform. It may not be all-powerful, but that's not the point: From cold boot to the web in five seconds is a good thing. An aside: If you're wondering why the Asus variety is called "Express Gate Powered by SplashTop," it's because 1) Asus sucks at branding; 2) They want to hedge their bets in case SplashTop is a success but they want to switch vendors in the future. (Neither are based on anything DeviceVM said to me—just an observation.) Company Page [SplashTop.com]
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6 Responses to SplashTop Instant-On Web Browsing and Skype

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why would I want to run a web browser in a sandboxed VM do that from Windows? You’re kidding, right?

    It’s secure from a malicious website infecting my system, or – if done correctly – a compromised system from interacting with my web browsing.

    That’s hugely useful.

    And if it could run off a VM/sandbox that was on a flash drive, well then I could securely use any computer that had this.

    Go tell Speiser and Lipman. Maybe take credit. The world needs this.

  2. strider_mt2k says:

    Maybe they’ll change stuff in the next version or something.

    Hope springs eternal.

  3. Anonymous says:

    A very light Splashtop booting directly on the browser homepage would be very useful in mobility!!

  4. strider_mt2k says:

    Well I don’t know if I’d call it slimy.
    That seems a little harsh.

    I didn’t originally think of the “quick on to check e-mail” thing, more the “the system is new/gone to crap and I need drivers or updates” thing.
    (Sorry I’ve been tinkering lately)

    I would call this a great start actually.

    Yes, by all means let’s put a full OS (like Ubuntu!) on some flash memory and use HDs for storage of settings and other-than-core apps. THAT seems like a great idea to me.

    I recently set up a machine to tinker with Ubuntu, so it’s the example I’m using.

    Great stuff overall and a great post!

  5. Ceyx Rau says:

    Hmmm… can run an entire Puppy Linux live desktop (with Firefox and Skype, etc.) off of a 256MB memory stick and still have room left over. I’ve done it.

    When it comes to grazing off of random rigs they typically have a desktop already on them /or/ people drag their desktop in the handy laptop form-factor over to the nearest place with free wireless.

    But if I remove the live desktop and use the stick only for storage I free up the entire stick. Admittedly, if I were to whip out my stick and say, “This sweet baby has a Puppy Linux desktop on it” that sounds way cooler than saying, “This sweet baby has a copy of my resume and ten dog pictures.”

    Having access to a rig on one hand and my dox in a stick on the other I’m not sure why I’d need to add a third step to the process of externally firing up a desktop.

  6. Halloween Jack says:

    Yes, by all means let’s put a full OS (like Ubuntu!) on some flash memory and use HDs for storage of settings and other-than-core apps. THAT seems like a great idea to me.

    Hear, hear. Not being able to update myself or even install plugins for Firefox is a dealkiller IMO.

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