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Fast-Booting Text-Editor Operating System? 660

cgenman writes "What is the fastest booting operating system out there that is still sufficient for editing text? Quite frequently, I'll need to boot my laptop and edit a few lines of text, or jot down an idea or two. XP loads in roughly 4 minutes to usable, and Ubuntu loads in about 60 seconds. Both feel like an eternity if there isn't a pen and paper around. What is the best operating system that people have found which would load to useable in under 20 seconds, can edit text files in something a little more friendly than VI or EMACS, yet can still access fat32 formatted USB drives? GUIs aren't required, but commands which require arcane foreknowledge or a cheat sheet are out."
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Fast-Booting Text-Editor Operating System?

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  • Not hard (Score:5, Informative)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:29PM (#25087199) Homepage Journal
    You could go with a straight BusyBox [busybox.net], or add a slightly more robust text editor to the enviornment.
    Then compile that into your initramfs, and just don't bother to do a switch_root to a real file system. As long as you've got the hardware and filesystem drivers compiled into the kernel, life is good.
    See http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/ [linuxfromscratch.org] for more details.
    This use-case is one where I would not recommend emacs.
  • Wake up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Renegade Lisp ( 315687 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:29PM (#25087201)
    My laptop never shuts down, I always just put it to sleep. Flip open, hack away. Less than 5 seconds. Oh, that's under Ubuntu, by the way.
    • Re:Wake up (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:01PM (#25087561) Homepage Journal
      LinuxBIOS/Coreboot will get a system up in 3 seconds or less. Add in a busybox/light distro, and you've usable editors, network tools, utilities and the BSD games available about as fast as you'll get. Well, if you replace the flash with a large enough PROM, you might shave a little more time, as a permanent gate should be faster than a programmable gate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by magarity ( 164372 )

      Suspend to disk instead of just sleep makes the questioner's 20 second requirement and doesn't trickle away the battery if he plans to carry it around a lot while it's off. I suppose it depends on the ratio of sleep/suspend time to use time which one is better. I always use suspend to prevent the battery running out if I'm not paying attention, or when travelling if a TSA goon pulls the battery or somesuch.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NemosomeN ( 670035 )
      Not all laptops are good with sleeping. My Asus Eee is a wonderful laptop, love it. But the harddrive is too small to waste on a hibernate file, and sleep draws way too much power (It has a long battery life despite having a small battery - it's just low draw. Sleep draws about the same power no matter what. So on smaller batteries, sleep is expensive).
  • Suspend to disk? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FalconZero ( 607567 ) * <FalconZero AT Gmail DOT com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:29PM (#25087203)
    Most modern O/S support suspend to disk [wikipedia.org] which can give you a usable desktop in under 20s. Per your example both XP and Ubuntu can do it in that time. And that's ignoring the even faster suspend to ram which almost all laptops feature these days (granted that for that there is a power requirement).

    It's not in the 'spirit' of your question, but perhaps it's a better solution to your problem?
    • Re:Suspend to disk? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:33PM (#25088283)

      You don't need a new OS, you need a new motherboard.

      Asus has "Express Gate" [neoseeker.com] on their newer mobos that allow you to boot into a web-surfing, email only mini OS [zdnet.co.uk] in "less than 5 seconds" without having to worry about whether you slept, suspended or hibernated the previous tme you shut down your PC.

      Ok, its basically an on-board Linix distro, so you do need a better OS after all.

  • toms root (Score:4, Interesting)

    by alex4u2nv ( 869827 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:30PM (#25087209) Homepage

    tomsroot http://www.toms.net/rb/ [toms.net]

  • DOS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shiftless ( 410350 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:30PM (#25087211) Homepage

    How about DOS?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Actually not a bad idea.
      Except that you're likely to hate the filesystem choices available.
    • Re:DOS (Score:5, Informative)

      by shiftless ( 410350 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:37PM (#25087299) Homepage

      OK, in restrospect that's funny, but I was being serious. FreeDOS meets all his requirements. It boots to command line in just a few seconds, supports FAT32, is easy to use, and there are countless thousands of high quality text editors of all flavors available for it. It even has TCP/IP support and such, and it can be booted off the oldest, smallest, most worthless thumb drive that you possibly own.

    • Re:DOS (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:38PM (#25087311) Homepage

      Maybe you meant that as a joke, but you're not far off:

      Kolibrios is a full, modern OS with a desktop. Written in Assembly, which as you can imagine makes in unbelievably fast. Can boot from a floppy.

      I just tried it out a few days ago

      http://www.kolibrios.org/ [kolibrios.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ZosX ( 517789 )
        Nice. Their files included a trojan and a rootkit, at least according to avast. Maybe false positives. Maybe not. Who can say? The rootkit was the telling one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That it was written in assembly directly means that it is unbelievably fast only if the person writing the assembly can do, say, global register allocation optimization in his head...

        While there are tasks for which hand-coded assembly really is faster, those are very special tasks. A complete OS is not one of them.

    • Re:DOS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jkerman ( 74317 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:55PM (#25087485)

      DOS will not have any of the power management features required to operate a modern laptop. The hit to your battery life would be SEVERE

      • DOS will not have any of the power management features required to operate a modern laptop. The hit to your battery life would be SEVERE

        Its not clear that battery life is relevant to the question. Original question did after all mention

        "boot my laptop and edit a few lines of text, or jot down an idea or two"

        I think even the worst possible power management should survive long enough to meet that task. If boot speed is the primary objective, then DOS should be just fine. The question did not say that the user wants to boot quickly and write a novel, after all.

  • pico (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:31PM (#25087217) Journal
    boot a GUI-less linux install and use pico/nano for text editing.

    all the key commands are shown at the bottom of the screen.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by init100 ( 915886 )

      boot a GUI-less linux install and use pico/nano for text editing.

      I agree. Booting my CentOS 5 servers in single-user mode take less than 20 seconds from the kernel starts to load until I can run Emacs. It's actually more like 10 seconds.

      I excluded BIOS startup because it is highly variable. My home desktop passes its BIOS startup in around 10 seconds, while our HP server blades at work take almost a minute to just get to GRUB.

  • I recommend (Score:5, Funny)

    by i_liek_turtles ( 1110703 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:31PM (#25087219)
    Windows Vista Ultimate. Just get a sharpie and write on the screen.
  • Freedos? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pathwalker ( 103 ) * <hotgrits@yourpants.net> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:31PM (#25087221) Homepage Journal

    So, you want fast booting?

    Get FreeDOS [freedos.org] and one of the text editors from here [freedos.org].

    I can't think of anything that will boot faster, although EMACS will likely be the friendliest editor available.

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:31PM (#25087223)

    "What is the fastest booting operating system out there that is still sufficient for editing text?

    I'd say Stallman's first OS:

    doofus@hotdog:~$ time emacs -nw

    real 0m2.075s
    user 0m0.372s
    sys 0m0.076s

  • DOS. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:32PM (#25087231) Homepage
    DOS Edit does a good job at basic text editing -- and on any reasonably modern laptop, DOS should boot amazingly quickly.

    If that's not fast enough for you, a TRS-80 Model 100 might do. They boot nearly instantly and have a built-in text editor. (The 32K max memory capacity might be a bit limiting, though.)
  • Smartphone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:33PM (#25087243) Journal

    Aren't you more likely to have your cellphone in your pocket than be lugging around a laptop? I just jot notes on my iPhone.

  • I don't know if all of E-Macs would be loadable in the limited time frames you are talking about but VI certainly could.

    If you press 'i' after you load VI you will experienced a notepad like editing experience that couldn't be easier. When you are done just press esc then x to save and exit or q! to exit without saving. when you see q! think, "quit damnit".

  • When the Apple TiBook first came out (before the days MacOSX), I got one and installed PPC linux on it. I was always amazed by how quickly it booted, around 20seconds. Of course, if you're also running XP, this probably won't work for you...
  • Sometimes it takes me longer than that to find a pen or pencil!
  • by acon1modm ( 1009947 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:36PM (#25087275)
    http://www.crash-override.net/nethacklinuxdownload.html [crash-override.net]

    boots from a floppy.

    0) generate character
    1) find magic marker
    2) scribble on the floor
  • Arch Linux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:36PM (#25087283) Homepage

    I dabbled in Arch Linux a bit a while back. I was booting it off of a USB flash drive (one of the slow cheap ones, not one of the fast new ones) and I am pretty sure it booted in less than 20 seconds. Of course, I had to patch their bootup scripts myself to have it boot that fast, because they had some dumb logic that was waiting a fixed period of time for detected usb devices to show up, rather than polling and exiting the wait loop when the devices were there. So whereas it would always take 10 or 15 seconds (whatever you had configured it to) with their scripts, my change allowed my system to usually wait only a few seconds. Net result, the thing booted pretty quickly. Of course, I submitted a patch to them, and they have done nothing with it, or the bug I opened for the issue, so that put me off Arch Linux pretty quick.

    Anyway, there were alot of nice things about Arch Linux; it is vastly streamlined compared to normal Linux. And if you know what you are doing, you can definitely get it under the 20 second boot time with just a little tweaking. Then you have a full-fledged Linux system to work on instead of some hacked together boot/root disks or whatever.

  • by NevermindPhreak ( 568683 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:36PM (#25087285)

    Hibernate. My laptop boots in about 20-30 seconds, with windows XP. I hear Ubuntu boots faster out of hibernation.

    Or you could get a cell phone with a note-taking function. My work-provided Palm Treo does this, Blackberrys do, iPhones... Hell, even phones without a full keyboard typically have a notes application these days, and you can type fairly fast with T9-word.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by InlawBiker ( 1124825 )

      I second the Blackberry idea. I am constantly adding tasks or notes in to my Blackberry, or adding stuff to the calendar. Eventually when I get back to my laptop or desktop my edits are there waiting for me.

  • Just suspend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:36PM (#25087287)

    I think you're asking the wrong question here. Any decent laptop with Linux or XP or OSX should be able to go into suspend mode and resume in about 2-8 seconds. I think my laptop hasn't been 'rebooted' in about two months, I just leave it constantly in suspend mode and activate it for 5-30 minutes at a time.

    Even if you get a near instant booting OS just the Power on Self Test is going to take longer than resuming from a suspend.

  • ARM Linux board (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:36PM (#25087291)
    Many of these will boot in less than 3 sec to a command console.
  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:37PM (#25087293) Homepage

    That said, if i really cared to have a text-editor-capable OS boot quickly, _and_ it needed FAT32.


    Is VFAT close enough for ya? Win98 boot disk transmuted onto a USB dongle with the VFAT driver in the config.sys. Boot only to command.com, not the full OS.

    It'll probably take longer for your box to POST than to boot that puppy.

    Me, I just write shit on my hand with a sharpie.

  • Use a DS? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chris Pimlott ( 16212 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:37PM (#25087295)

    Resume on a DS is practically instantaneous, at least for commercial titles, and there's a lively homebrew scene, maybe there's already something out there that might work out for you? Plus very portable and easy to scribble with the touchscreen, and great battery life.

    Oh, and games too :)

  • PDA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ahmeni ( 1026930 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:39PM (#25087333)
    This sounds like a task for your modern PDA/phone. If you only ever write a line or two then there's no need to use a laptop to jot down ideas.
  • MenuetOS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mustafap ( 452510 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:40PM (#25087349) Homepage


    Both 64 and 32 bit versions.

    I think you'll find that boots *Very* fast.

  • by popmaker ( 570147 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:41PM (#25087353)
    "Both feel like an eternity if there isn't a pen and paper around."

    The problem seems kind of artifical if you're fine working with paper anyway. Otherwise, I'd resort to just leave the machine on, which I usually do anyway.
  • by Nipok Nek ( 87328 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:47PM (#25087415)
    Get an old Jornada 540 Series off of eBay. They can be had really cheaply, boot in seconds, and sync up nicely with whatever flavor of Windows you have. If you don't like the tiny on-screen keyboard, they have attachments.
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:51PM (#25087441)

    Call me a Luddite, but I carry a small, pocket sized Mead pad around and a small pen.

    Behold: http://www.mead.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product3_10051_10006_126671_-1_false_10051 [mead.com]

    And you can get it in a different color each time! :)

  • by theurge14 ( 820596 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:53PM (#25087457)

    I suggest:

    1) Use a smaller handheld device to take notes with. All manager of PDAs, Nintendo DS, iPhone and iPod touch can take notes in an instant.

    2) If you're going to use a laptop, then leave it in suspend mode and don't power it off when you go mobile.

    3) If you must power off the laptop off when mobile, then power it off in Hibernate mode.

    Most laptops are hard drive based which means no matter what OS you choose you will be waiting a period of time for the OS to overcome the speed bottleneck of the hard drive.

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:56PM (#25087503) Journal

    Last Friday I was using our reflectometer [wikipedia.org] and was impressed by the fact that the PC that controls it boots in about 6 seconds directly into the application! It's based on DOS and the PC is a .... 33MHz Intel 386! It would be cool if a contemporary PC based on a 3GHz CPU could boot into such an application in 0.06 seconds. I know, I/O is the main bottleneck, I guess, though hard disks have indeed gotten about 100 times faster in data transfer, and about 5 times faster in seek time, since the 386 was the hotness.

  • Try Syllable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:59PM (#25087545)


    My name is Rick Caudill and I work on the Syllable project. I would say you should give Syllable(www.syllable.org) a try. My machine boots to a gui within 10 seconds. Just give it a try

  • EPOC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by D4C5CE ( 578304 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:07PM (#25087625)
    EPOC [wikipedia.org]: Instant-on for years after first boot, best served in an E Ink [e-ink.com] reincarnation of the Psion [wikipedia.org] (to be developed)...
  • by teal_ ( 53392 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:10PM (#25087655)

    A notebook boots in 2 seconds. You just open it to a blank page, uncap your pen, and voila, the perfect text editor. Plus, you can draw figures without any special software.

  • I think the people saying to use hibernation/sleep features are probably closest to right for most practical purposes now. I thought I'd add a historical side-note...

    In the 1980's, MIT Lisp Machines were often used in demos for visitors from funding agencies. Probably mostly people from (D)ARPA. And things would often go wrong. Things had to reboot.

    Now instruction times were a lot slower then, but you'd be surprised how little boot times have changed over the years. Seems like every time someone speeds up the hardware, they also slow down the speed of booting of both at least the operating system and maybe also the programs. So normal booting was a process of 30 seconds or a minute, as I recall. And that was inconvenient for these demos.

    So someone worked out a way that you could do something called instaboot. You'd load up everything you needed and would save the image, kind of like going into standby mode on your computer. But it was intended to be restarted multiple times. When you started, it would just pull in the pages that you needed first to let you run, pulling in other things you needed on demand.

    You could save it in whatever state you wanted, for example with the editor already loaded and started. Even with files loaded ito editor buffers if you wanted, though that obviously ran the risk that if you later edited them on two subsequent occasions, you might get a conflict. But that was up to you. Nothing kept you from trying.

    The effect was startling. You could reboot the machine and be up and running in about a second, maybe two. The only evidence was that the screen would change and would kind of bounce (some sort of sync pulse or degaussing thing or something, I never quite knew what that was).

    So demos were always loaded and saved, then booted into. When the demo went bad, you just hit reboot. It was so fast, people would notice something had happened but often wouldn't know what. "Just garbage collecting," we would say. Well, it was sort of true. Rebooting is a particularly efficient way to garbage collect.

    For some reason, that feature was not carried forward into later models of the Lisp Machine. It was only there on the CADR at MIT (and perhaps the LM-2 and the TI Explorer and LMI Lambda, I'm not sure, since I never used those, though they were repackaged variants of the same thing). It didn't go into the Symbolics 3600 nor later series machines.

  • by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:29PM (#25087809)

    No USB drive compatibility, but instant on.

    The love of newspaper field reporters for decades:

    http://oldcomputers.net/trs100.html [oldcomputers.net]

    Not bad for 1983.

  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:33PM (#25087841)

    From the top of my head:

    - (X)Ubuntu with a default XFCE enviroment. [xubuntu.org] Designed for very old computers and people who hate the Gnome/KDE slowpoking.

    - Haiku OS [haiku-os.org]. OSS BeOS variant. Lightning fast, designed with the GUI in mind. Sub-10-seconds booting is rumored.

    - The Syllable [syllable.org] OS. An OSS OS inspired by the proof-of-concept project Athena OS and some concepts implemented in BeOS. This one is actually quite interesting, as they've come quite far for a project that started from scratch without being a simple Unix rippoff. The site has demo videos showing Syllable coldboot into the Desktop under 10 seconds on older hardware and they've got quite a few apps ported to it allready, including a native browser using a pimped-out webkit renderer. Shutdown is sub 5 seconds (also important). They're working on a completely seperate server variant too. I consider this one a truely interesting alternate OS. You should check it out.

    - Current Debian with a 2.2 kernel, Fluxbox or Windowmaker VM and a little tweaking should get you a very lightweight OS enviroment aswell.

    Take any of the above and flash them onto a modern bios that you plug into your Mobo and your set for super-fast booting.

  • by Rui del-Negro ( 531098 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:46PM (#25087903) Homepage

    XP loads in roughly 4 minutes to usable

    Well, mine boots in one minute, and that's including the 25 seconds the RAID controller spends looking for drives (before I installed it, it "booted to desktop" in exactly 26 seconds - I timed it). Add about 3 seconds to start something like Notepad / Textpad (or 6 seconds to start a real word processor) and you should be up and running in 30-90 seconds. Not lightning fast, and slightly slower than a "lightweight" Linux system, but a long way from "4 minutes".

    But you can be up and running in much less than that simply by using sleep / hibernate, instead of actually loading the full OS.

    Or get a modern PDA / cell phone. You can take photos of anything that's already written down or you can use the sound recorder to take voice notes (this is assuming you don't like typing on a PDA / cell phone keyboard). Then just transfer everything to your PC via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or whatever.

    For the true "pen & paper" feel, get a digital pen [destinyplc.co.uk] (Flash-heavy site). You'll still need to find something (or someone) to write on, though.

  • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:12PM (#25088095) Homepage

    When I want to write NOW NOW NOW, I reach for my Alphasmart [wikipedia.org]. I like the instant-on ability, and the insanely long battery life.

    What really makes me happy is that it doesn't have the usual distractions of a desktop. No internet, no games, no browsing, no music ...

    It's a word processor. That's all it does, and it does that one thing very well indeed. And for creative, but easily distracted minds like mine, that's a real plus.

    It doesn't host USB formatted drives, though it can be used as a USB keyboard to rapidly transfer your writing to another computer. Just plug it in and hit "send."

  • Solved 20 Years Ago (Score:3, Interesting)

    by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:13PM (#25088115)

    Twenty years ago I was using DOS. It booted almost instantly. If I wanted to, I might have edited autoexec.bat to include a command to launch an editor at the end of the boot. Or, I might have used a TSR like Sidekick that would have provided access to a text editor, and more, at the touch of a key.

    Modern operating systems are several orders of magnitude larger than DOS. Hence, the longer boot times.

    Remember, however, that Unix and Linux are text-based operating systems. You don't need to run X, the graphical interface, if you don't want to. You can alter the boot scripts of a Unix/Linux machine to stop at the text interface, ask you which interface you want to use, or just boot in text mode and launch a text editor.

  • two options (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @06:31AM (#25091743) Homepage Journal

    Ok, lots of people already pointed out the obvious: Sleep mode. For the record: I use a Mac, and it is back up and usable before I'm done opening the lid.

    I'd like to point out something even more obvious: Pen & Paper.
    Seriously. I'm a techie as much as anyone here, but at work, which is the place where I most often have to take small notes, quickly, and have them handy for reference, I carry a stack of blank index cards and a pen with me. By my estimate it will be 10 more years before something electronic beats that.

    If you absolutely need it digital, throw them on a scanner.

    If you really, really need them in text format, it isn't that much additional work to just copy them down in a text editor whenever startup time isn't the crucial factor.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak