Phoronix: Remember SplashTop? Here's An Update On Them
Do you remember SplashTop? It's the instant-on Linux environment that was originally embedded into select ASUS motherboards three years ago and from there worked its way to other motherboards and then onto notebooks and other devices from a variety of vendors. We effectively launched SplashTop for DeviceVM, the company behind this instant-on Linux distribution, when we got our hands on SplashTop early and were the first in the world to provide a detailed analysis of SplashTop. It was one of our most popular articles that year and of over the past six and a half years that Phoronix has been around. Recently though we haven't heard much about SplashTop at all...
Well, they ended up suing Phoenix Technologies with their HyperSpace competitor for patent infringement. The patent they took against Phoenix Technologies was a patent they hold that covers a "Mechanism for Intuitively Invoking One or More Auxiliary Programs During a Computer Booting Process."
It's good to see SplashTop is still alive and kicking.
To the extent that it's "good" that a company using a software patent to bully its competitors is still alive and kicking... But, on the other hand, Phoenix may have "started it". It's hard to tell without being on the inside who really instigated this company feud, but regardless of where the pissing contest began, it is not a justification for using software patents aggressively. The subject matter should not have been patented in the first place. As an inferior alternative, at least stick it in a defensive patent pool.
Not to mention they are essentially a proprietary software company practicing the "one way street" open source philosophy (arguably worse than developing their own proprietary software stack from the bottom up, because they can spin their company image to appear like they are open source friendly when in fact they just profit from the efforts of others).
Apparently they appreciate open source contributions to the kernel, GNU, etc., and they comply with the letter of the GPL by giving you a 909 MB zip file (holy cow!), but where is the source to their proprietary core that loads the Linux kernel? As it turns out, all the really interesting, generally useful technology that they've developed just happens to be closed source. Isn't that a funny coincidence? I mean, sure, maybe they needed to submit a few patches to the kernel or some low-level utilities to support it, but that's like saying we should praise VMware for writing an open source graphics driver for vmwgfx, ignoring the fact that the hypervisor part (the really interesting part, again) is proprietary.
But I guess they have to keep it proprietary to stay in line with their aggressive patent licensing policy, so it's pretty clear that these guys are just a (much) smaller version of Larry Ellison's evil empire.
BTW, I once used an ASUS motherboard with a preinstalled production version of SplashTop, and it really wasn't anything special. Half my devices I tried to use with it didn't work; it lacked any sort of 3d accel; and it couldn't even burn CDs or DVDs. If I ever find myself unable to boot any of the three OSes installed on my hard disks, I'll stick in my bootable FSF USB key, or an OpenSUSE Live CD or something. If you can't even boot from any external media then the computer has no business powering on anyway.
It's good to see SplashTop is still alive and kicking.
I was very excited when I first read about this thing here on Phoronix, to the point that I went out and bought an ASUS Motherboard that advertised it. A huge disappointment followed -- the "embedded" thing was not embedded at all, it was actually loading from a Windows partition (and had to be "installed" there to work). Epic Fail right there! After complaining to the reseller they offered a refund, however I kept the MB because it was a nice piece of hardware anyway. ASUS was not very helpful, but after I complained to them they silently changed the marketing on these products to separate into "splashtop" and "splashtop lite", of course without going into any details about the difference.
The M/B is still running, but the darned thing has been disabled ever since. A few other points I noticed (before wiping the Win parition): it was by no means "instant-on", it took a few seconds after the POST to load. Current Linux distros can load in 15sec. with a SSD, making this worthless; also, the apps installed were old and stripped down, I remember the IM client (gaim?) not being able to even connect to Yahoo.
All-in-all, any small Linux distro installed on a SSD will work a lot better than this proprietary crap from a company that is in favour of aggressively using software patents. I use RIPLinux on USB sticks and it's great!
I was very excited when I first read about this thing here on Phoronix, to the point that I went out and bought an ASUS Motherboard that advertised it. A huge disappointment followed -- the "embedded" thing was not embedded at all, it was actually loading from a Windows partition (and had to be "installed" there to work).
Not entirely true, some implementations needed a partition, others did not. The M3N-HT with "Express Gate" for example handles everything in flash chip and requires no harddrive to even be present to run. Some boards came with "Express Gate Lite" which did however require a drive to be present.
I tested it deeply, but never used a "supported" motherboard. It was possible to add apps (and even device drivers after i found out the CORRECT linux config - it was wrong in the first source package), but it has too many drawbacks to be really usefull. I think those users who rely on a fast access to a pc just use supsend to ram. Splashtop was basically a Linux distro stripped down to the minimum using vesa driver with resticted apps in several ways. Every other Linux distro is better suited when you do not only want to check your mails via webmail and power off your pc immediately. With vesa driver everything must be slow. Maybe with meegoo base they could use kms for intel and ati with a bit better video accelleration (did not test it, just a theory) but basically that does not help you much. The fast boot is not really a boot, it shows a menu selection with mouse support immediately and the kernel is bootet in an uncommon way, maybe similar to a suspended system. You gain not even 30s to a normal boot with your favorite os usually...
In the beginning, when these instant-on linux things were on a chunk of nand soldered onto the mainboard, it was interesting -- but only because the mainboard had the chip that you could take over and install your own software onto. When they decided to scrap that idea and just install it into some reserved chunk of an ntfs disk, it became totally pointless.
And now with patent litigation... they are now on my list as TOTAL SCUM. I would say that you don't even bother reporting on them any more.
They still make mobos with a chunk of NAND soldered onto the mainboard that hosts an instant-on Linux distro. The difference now is that the NAND is read-only, for some definition of read-only (maybe there might be a way to hardware hack it in some cases, but I'm not sure).
The flash storage is sometimes hidden (i saw a board where it was visable too some years ago, but was not my board). Most likely just triggered by some commands to enable/disable it in the update tool or the small bios loader. ST stores user settings in the flash, so it is definitely NOT read only!