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SplashTop "Instant-On Linux" Gets Hacked

Michael Larabel

Published on 29 July 2008
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 2 - 18 Comments

Last October we were the first to deliver a full-review of DeviceVM's SplashTop which was an instant-on embedded Linux distribution at the time found on a lone ASUS motherboard. Since then there has been a commitment to SplashTop on all ASUS motherboards and even on ASUS notebooks. While ASUS has been the primary partner with DeviceVM up to this point, other manufacturers are exploring this market. One of our few gripes about SplashTop is that it's limited in the current applications available and doesn't allow for much tweaking with no terminal access. However, members of the Phoronix Forums have hacked SplashTop. They have been able to run SplashTop from a USB stick on non-ASUS motherboards, boot SplashTop within a virtual machine, run custom applications, and launch a terminal within this proprietary Linux environment.

In the days following our very-popular review of SplashTop on the P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, we had learned many details from DeviceVM regarding this innovative operating system. SplashTop (or "Express Gate" as ASUS calls it on their products) is made up of a Core Engine (CE) and Virtual Application Environment (VAE) with it being the Core Engine that's a "proprietary real-time operating environment" embedded into motherboard's flash chip for the BIOS. The SplashTop Core Engine consists of Linux, a networking stack, and the set of drivers needed by the motherboard. This "highly optimized Linux core" is able to start in less than ten seconds through boot-time optimizations by DeviceVM engineers, such as doing a minimized POST. We had also learned that the desktop environment in use was Blackbox.


SplashTop hacked showing a terminal and running within a Sun xVM Virtual Box.

SplashTop is a truly great Linux innovation and we had even named it one of the greatest Linux innovations of 2007. DeviceVM continues to enrich the SplashTop platform by adding in new applications for photo management, instant messaging, DVD playback, and even virtualization support.

Last October, DeviceVM had expressed intentions on opening up the Virtual Application Environment so that users are able to package their favorite applications within a VAE and then run it on SplashTop-supported machines. However, no SDK (Software Development Kit) for SplashTop has yet to be released. In January at the Consumer Electronic Show we were told by DeviceVM that it should arrive later this year, but we have yet to see it. Last November they had released some source-code to SplashTop but that was just a few patches for Bootsplash, DVM, getting the CMOS time, the sk98lin networking driver, and SquashFS. This source-code really wasn't useful in understanding the optimizations made by DeviceVM in achieving this instant-on Linux environment.

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