Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

09 January 2006

Some OS Developments I'd Like To See Become More Ubiquitous

Here are some ideas for operating systems that I'd like to see developed. I was on a plane the other day, and I fired up my laptop to watch a movie. I had just got the movie, so I didn't have time to rip it, which I usually do; to save on batteries. Spinning a hard drive consumes enough power, spinning a DVD drive consumes even more.

So I loaded into my Debian system. The power management in KDE is pretty good. Admittedly KDE's standby and hibernate stink, but the CPU throttling is a godsend. So I start watching my DVD and about 40 minutes later, as my battery is forcing out its last gasps, I think to myself, "why do I need a fully featured OS running to watch a DVD?"

I've been thinking about this question and it is more puzzling than it seems. Why can't my computer act as a DVD player as well as a computer without having to do both? My idea was that a computer that set to boot from the CD drive first (as most are) would check to see what the disk is. If it was a bootable disk (a la knoppix) it would boot. If it was an audio CD, it would play the audio. If it was a DVD, it would start the DVD; both using some minimal multimedia player that doesn't even touch the hard drive.

Then I started thinking, why couldn't the music player that played the CD, also play mp3s from the hard drive? Ditto for playing avis or movs. Unfortunately that leads to the slippery slope; loading filesystem drivers, media codecs, spinning hard drives, and some sort of OS environment. Sounds strangely like a very light linux distro. (Like geexbox I suppose, though it would have to install rather than just be a live CD).

Macs already have something like this. They have a number of neato boot modes. The neatest is 'disk mode.' By holding "T" when the computer is turned on, the computer acts like an external drive. Connect it to other computers and they'll see an external drive (I think it'd be neat if you could do this without rebooting your mac, while in OSX, but for technical reasons, especially problesm with more than one machine mounting a single hard drive, that may not be possible). That kind of idea is what should go into this new boot mode.

A mini OS is an option, but the general public wants something that comes with their computer. Currently I have a triple boot, DSL (my media player that fits what I want closest), Debian and Windows XP. But why couldn't a bootup multimedia player be implemented in the BIOS? I started looking around and it seems my idea (as usual) is a little late.

This article came out today. It is a nice writeup on what both Toshiba and HP are doing with a few (as much as 80% in Toshibas case) of their laptops. You can get it now in the Toshiba Qosmio series, or the HP dv1000. These laptops will have a multimedia player that will start on boot without loading an entire desktop environment. The Toshiba Qosmio series is expensive (it has a lot of multimedia stuff packed in there) but the dv1000 is less than $1000.

Why is this a good idea? Other than the obvious power management reasons I see two major advantages to this setup. First load times will be negligable. Second the media player will be more stable. Have you ever had, in the middle of a DVD, a virus scan or something fire up? Something blue screen? Plus, if you killed your OS, at least you still have a functional DVD player!

All in all I was glad to see other people, far smarter than I am, implementing this. As long as this feature continues to expand, I know my next laptop will have it.


Anonymous Ben said...

Why don't you install a minimal linux install that has X, video modules, mplayer, and cpufreq. Would load really quickly, ad do pretty much everything you want. Just use grub or lilo to pick which verson of linux you want to boot.

09 January, 2006  
Blogger jambarama said...

That is a great idea. I actually have something like that now, I have DSL (with a few extras added in), Debian and Windows XP all living together. Grub is my bootloader of choice.

DSL loads up very quickly and it is very light. Mplayer on DSL is the closest working solution I have right now but it is far from perfect. If I wanted to dink around I know I could make DSL even lighter, but I'm not sure its worth the time.

More importantly, this isn't just for myself. I'd like this to be available to a lot more people than myself, Toshiba seems to be doing this. Kudos to Toshiba.

09 January, 2006  
Blogger johnkimble said...

Great post, I think that's a great idea and now that you're on digg:

maybe you'll get some sort of response. I'm an avid Geexbox user - I think that app is great for home theatre possibilities. Good luck in your search.

09 January, 2006  

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