Microsoft mulling 'Instant On' feature for Windows

Microsoft is considering adding an "Instant On" feature to the Windows client OS.

Microsoft is considering giving its Windows client OS the capability to be turned on very rapidly by allowing users only limited access to the OS, a concept it's calling "Instant On," according to a survey Microsoft conducted.

Through its public relations firm, Microsoft confirmed on Thursday that the survey, screenshots of which were posted on the Engadget blog, was sent out to some users. The company would not comment specifically on the survey, saying only that Microsoft "routinely does research about various scenarios to see what customers are interested in having their computers do."

Microsoft said it's "too early" to discuss Instant On specifically. However, the company may be considering it as a feature of Windows 7, the next version of its client OS, which is expected to be released late next year or in early 2010.

In the survey, Microsoft asks users their opinion of Instant On, which "takes your computer from being completely powered down or 'turned off' to being usable for a few specific activities in a very short amount of time," according to a screenshot of the survey posted on the Web.

Microsoft distinguished between an Instant On Windows experience and a "Full Windows" experience by describing Instant On as limiting what activities users can do with the OS and what applications they have access to.

Providing extremely fast boot-up for PCs is not a new concept, and companies have been experimenting with ways to do it by giving people access only to some information on their PCs and other devices without having to power up the full OS.

Dell has two technologies -- one called MediaDirect with Instant Office, for Inspiron notebooks, and another called Latitude ON, for its Latitude laptops -- that give people access to their calendars, contacts, the Internet and other basic tools by just hitting a button on their PCs. Microsoft had publicly demonstrated similar technology for laptops before it became available from Dell.

Another application called Splashtop, from San Jose, California, startup DeviceVM, lets people access the Internet in only a few seconds after turning on a computer. Low-cost laptops from ASUS and Voodoo PC use Splashtop.

In the survey, Microsoft said that in an Instant On scenario, a computer would turn on in about eight seconds, and users would only be able to browse the Web, watch DVDs, use instant messaging and listen to music. They would not have access to all their data or applications.

The company also asked users to identify what functionality they would expect to have in an Instant On scenario, and how quickly an OS would have to turn on for it to be characterized as instantly on. For the latter question, the multiple-choice answers ranged from as little as less than two seconds to as much as one to two minutes.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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