Here at Engadget, we don't spend an awful lot of time dabbling in operating systems, but when Phoenix Technologies offered us the chance to check out its HyperSpace instant-on OS, we just couldn't resist. After all, it's hard to ignore the allure of reported sub-10 second bootup times on portable-by-nature machines (often referred to as "netbooks," for those camped under rocks). Considering that HyperSpace is well on its way to a netbook near you (we're told that undisclosed partnerships should be completely hammered out within the next few months), why not follow us past the break to see if the system really is all it's cracked up to be.
Our primary test machine was an Atom-powered Lenovo IdeaPad S10, which -- in all honesty -- is pretty much spec-for-spec the kind of machine HyperSpace was designed for. We were also able to toy around with the system on a full-sized Lenovo T400, and we came away with the understanding that something like this really can benefit both netbook and desktop replacement laptop buyers.
Yeah, we know the reason you came here, and that's to find out just how quickly this thing booted up from a cold start. On our S10, we went from completely powered down to a fully-functional HyperSpace screen in around 25 seconds. Of note, this was on battery power and includes the time taken for the web browser to launch and a WiFi signal to be locked onto. As for booting straight into Windows XP? Under the same circumstances (completely powered down and running on battery), we didn't even see the WinXP desktop until 45 or so seconds in, and it was another 5 to 10 seconds after that before we could do anything remotely productive. We've no masters in mathematics, but a 40% to 50% increase in cold start-to-action time isn't anything to scoff at.
So, now that you fully understand just how quickly (or sluggishly, depending on your standards) the HyperSpace OS gets going, you're probably interested in how the actual user experience is within it. To be frank, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, we loved being able to hop over to a website or check our Facebook status 1.2 seconds after we opened the lid from sleep mode, but we still feel a bit of polish could do it some good. Our biggest gripe with the whole deal wasn't even related to anything on-screen; rather, the system did a very poor job of interpreting inputs from our S10's trackpad. Within Windows XP, the diminutive pad was remarkably accurate, and we never once "overshot" our target or cursed the cursor for moving about without our consent
Within HyperSpace, the experience was nothing short of frustrating. The sensitivity was about 5x too high, and there was nothing in the barebones options menu that would allow us to tweak it. Due to this, we spent the majority of our time focusing intently on making precise movements and attempting to avoid clicking on objects we never intended to. Needless to say, it's kind of hard to enjoy an OS when you can't satisfactorily move the mouse cursor.
For users with lightning fast digits or an external mouse to play with, things were pretty swell. The layout was incredibly simple to navigate, the shortcuts were quick to activate and everything just seemed remarkably fluid. Even the web browsing was something we found enjoyable, and we're markedly critical of our browsers. Also of note was the networking control panel, which seemed unusually robust to us. Pretty much every advanced option that's in a typical Windows networking scheme was found here, and we had no problems tweaking some of the more exotic settings to get connected.
Truthfully, you probably won't spend a great deal of time within HyperSpace. It's perfectly fine for checking your internet bookmarks for updates and accessing your Gmail on the double, but the vast majority of that bite-sized, easy-to-digest information can be found just as easily (if not more so) on one's smartphone. That being the case, we would have really loved to see HyperSpace as more of a purgatory and less of a final destination. As it stands, users have to leave HyperSpace, allow the system to completely shut down, and then re-watch the entire bootup process again on the way to Windows XP. The "instant-on OS" would be entirely more appealing if one could simply shut down HyperSpace and complete the trip into a full-fledged OS.
Of course, there is a version that enables users to be within HyperSpace and Windows simultaneously, so if you're in agreement with us here, we'd recommend ponying up the extra for that iteration.
At the end of the day, HyperSpace is a fine addition to most any laptop, and if it comes bundled in at a negligible cost on your next machine, you'll probably find yourself glad it's there on a few occasions. But is it really worth the separate purchase if you're already content with your setup as-is? That's a tough call, but unless you find yourself in and out of systems on an unusually frequent basis, we'd probably say no. There aren't many times in life when users can't wait an additional 30 or so seconds to have unbridled access to a real-deal OS, so unless you find yourself squarely in the minority, your dollars are probably better off in your savings account. Check our our walkthrough video below if you're so inclined.