If ultraportables were last year's big surprise success for GNU/Linux, one of the potentially exciting technologies for this year is the instant-on pre-operating system that loads in seconds when you power up a desktop or portable. DeviceVM’s Splashtop is probably the best known example. These are highly relevant to the free software world, since such instant-on systems are usually based on GNU/Linux, and once people start trying them out, they may simply stay there using the free software apps available, rather than wait minutes for the full glory of Windows Vista to chunder into its vitiated life.
Indeed, the Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin was quite bullish on the subject (well, you'd expect him to be, wouldn't you?):
Linux is not only powering fastboot applications, but the Moblin project has already demonstrated a five second boot at the Linux Foundation’s recent Plumbers conference.
We may see a world at the end of next year where Linux ships on almost every notebook computer regardless of whether it is loaded with Windows. This in addition to the huge potential of the netbook, mobile internet device and mobile Linux market can mean huge and immediate inroads for a Linux desktop, albeit not in the form most people had predicted many years ago when the first “year of the Linux desktop” was declared.
That post mentions a number of companies which have or plan to have such instant-on systems. Amongst them is the well-known company Phoenix Technologies, with a product called HyperSpace, which interestingly is downloadable - you can install on existing systems. It's out now, but its Web site is a little confusing, since it talks of a "free 21-day trial." Now, if as Zemlin wrote, HyperSpace is based on GNU/Linux, at least some of it must be made freely available. And yet nowhere on the HyperSpace site can I find an option to download the relevant source code.
But it *is* based on GNU/Linux, as this review states:
HyperSpace is essentially just a very lightweight Linux operating system installed on the hard drive. You can essentially get the same thing as HyperSpace by running a highly optimized and configured Linux distribution, which in most cases will cost you nothing but some time. Unless Phoenix Technologies intends to violate the GNU GPL and other open-source licenses, they will be required to release some of the Linux source-code they use, which in turn will help enthusiasts construct their own Linux OS spins.
The last point is the interesting one. Does Phoenix hope to get away without respecting the GNU GPL? Or is it just a little slow to code the free links into its Web site? As Cisco is currently discovering, you really don't want to mess with the FSF: when push comes to shove, it is quite willing to press the big red legal button. As I wrote recently about the Cisco case, I am sure that the company will come to its senses, and comply with the licence. But it will be interesting how much prodding it will require along the way.... (With thanks to Brian Proffitt for sharing links.)