Phoenix Software Reduces Pain From a PC Boot

Alternate, stripped-down system runs alongside or instead of Windows

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Dave at CES: Shaving a few minutes off a starting PC also shaves the angst, the tension that feels like a kick in the stomach from a computer's boot.

HyperSpace is new software that offers a lean, fast and friendly partner to slow-starting Windows. I've been testing it for several days, and HyperSpace has quickly booted my laptop into a usable, if limited, Web-connected machine.

The software is among a number of efforts to sidestep the depth and bloat that is Windows. "We're trying to make the computer more like a smartphone, something that opens up and is usable almost instantly," says Woody Hobbs, CEO of Phoenix Technologies.

Phoenix has long made firmware that runs the initial boot-up sequence in computers. Phoenix began to see the potential of new PC processors that can make themselves look like multiple chips. That makes it easier to run multiple operating systems through "virtualization."

PC makers already pre-install similar software to their computers. Some Asus, Dell and Toshiba notebooks can quickly boot into an alternative system that enables almost-instant Web browsing. What makes HyperSpace interesting is that it can be downloaded onto existing computers.

From experience, the software seems worth the price, which runs $40 to $60 a year. It isn't cheap, particularly because Phoenix is selling it as an annual subscription. That means it must be renewed each year but that updates come along free.

It only saves a minute or three each time. From a cold, powered-off state, HyperSpace might boot in 45 or 50 seconds. That's perhaps a minute or so quicker than a clean install of Windows. Some Windows PCs, though, can take three or four minutes to get to a usable state.

From a sleep state, such as closing and opening a laptop's lid, HyperSpace is up and connected within seconds. That assumes it sees a familiar Wi-Fi hotspot. It also seems to wake more reliably than Windows.

For someone who travels a lot, who is grabbing a few minutes of E-mail while waiting for a flight, another minute or two is worth $5 a month. Particularly because they are frustrating, annoying minutes.

HyperSpace comes in two flavors, depending on the PC and which chip it has. Those with the right chip can run HyperSpace alongside Windows, making it easier to switch to as needed. Those without (but with enough memory and hard drive space) can still run it in dual-boot mood, which requires shutting down HyperSpace to start up Windows.

My enthusiasm depends on Phoenix working out  bugs in the test versions I had. My touchpad on a Lenovo test netbook, for example, was hyper in running across the screen under HyperSpace -- or inexplicably locked up, requiring a hard reset.  But even a bit rough around the edges, HyperSpace is  welcome on my PC.