'Instant On' Feature Spreads to More Notebooks

Tick. Tick. Tick. The dreaded waiting period for a computer to boot up is all too familiar.

Even the pilot on my flight to Las Vegas this week told passengers they would have to wait for a few minutes — "like how your computer has to boot up at home" — as he restarted the engine before takeoff.

But airplanes aside, time-weary consumers who increasingly rely on laptops, PCs and other electronic devices to watch movies or listen to music are demanding immediate gratification. The tech industry is responding.

Evidence of an instant-on movement peppered the International Consumer Electronics Show here.

Toshiba Corp. showed off new notebooks with its "Express Media Player," which lets users instantly play audio or video DVDs and CDs with a simple push of a button and without the need to first boot the Microsoft Corp. Windows operating system.

The Japanese electronics giant was among the first to feature a no-waiting TV mode in 2004 with its Qosmio multimedia laptop.

It then began to put the boot-less mode on its high-end models. This year, Toshiba plans to integrate the feature in about 80 percent of its models.

Hewlett-Packard Co. also introduced similar "QuickPlay" technology in one laptop over a year ago. It has since expanded it across four model lines, including its newest HP Pavilion dv1000, debuting at CES.

"Eventually every notebook will have this capability in the next couple of years," said Carl Pinto, a Toshiba product development director. "As digital convergence has made notebooks more of an entertainment device, the whole concept is to make it operate more like a DVD player or other consumer electronics."

Put it this way: How long do you wait after you push the power button to get your radio, digital camera or cell phone to start working? Maybe 10 or 15 seconds if your handset is a smartphone.

By contrast, it still typically takes anywhere from two to four minutes for a computer to boot up its operating system and be ready for duty.

Microsoft, whose nearly ubiquitous Windows platform is expanding into ever more mobile and entertainment-oriented gadgets, knows improvements are needed. It promises to address that issue in its upcoming Windows upgrade, called Vista, due for release by the end of the year.

In one such feature, called Sideshow, laptops would be able to retrieve phone contacts, to-do lists or other organizer-type files — all without the need to turn on the machine or boot up the main operating system.

Instead, users could instantly access that data, which would be displayed on a small screen embedded in the notebook's lid.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed a prototype of the SideShow technology during his keynote Wednesday night.

PortalPlayer Inc., which is providing Microsoft with the semiconductors and software components for Sideshow, says its technology would even allow for PowerPoint presentations to be displayed or controlled from the small touch screen.

Some laptop prototypes were on display at CES, but notebook makers are not expected to incorporate "Preface" technology until after Windows Vista is released, said Arman Toorians, senior director of technical marketing at PortalPlayer.

Companies could also apply the technology to multimedia computers, Toorians said.

In the meantime, Intel Corp.'s new Viiv platform of technologies for home entertainment PCs will also allow users to instantly turn their machines on or off after an initial boot.

The feature actually amounts to something of a deception: It works by making the PC only appear to be off by powering down the monitor, audio and external LED lights of the system.

In the "off" state, the machine is actually operating normally and capable of doing tasks such as recording a TV show.

The technology appears to be similar to a new feature called "Away Mode" on some current PCs running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition.