Soluto: A community-based solution to the my-computer-boots-very-slowly problem

It be an over used statement, but it is true: When we get new computers, they are blazing fast (or, they seem to be blazing fast); however as we use our computers more and more, they seem to get slower and slower. One of the most noticeable aspects where a was-new-now-old computer’s performance degrades is boot time. It seems like where it took 30 seconds to boot when you first ran the computer, it now takes 5 minutes. Why? Has Steve Jobs eternally cursed Windows users for not buying a Mac? Maybe, but that really isn’t the reason for performance degradation. As is the case with the right-click context menu, many programs – justified or not – like to make themselves automatically turn on during Windows boot. As more and more programs start to automatically boot at Windows boot, the longer your boot time becomes (duh =P).

There are many programs out there available to help users control what runs automatically on Windows boot – Autoruns, WinPatrol, and AnVir Task Manager just to name a few. However, Soluto tackles the my-computer-boots-very-slowly problem in a way that differs from all the other programs.

At its core Soluto is nothing unique – it allows users to remove or delay boot time programs/processes. What makes Soluto unique is its community-based solution to the my-computer-boots-very-slowly problem. Here is a short introduction video to Soluto:

The idea behind Soluto is as follows: Build a community-powered knowledge database (“PC Genome”) on programs; then, use that database to help individual users determine if a boot time program/process should be paused, delayed, or left as-is. (Right now the PC Genome is only for boot time programs/processes but, as the video mentioned, the developer seems to have big plans for this knowledge database.) Potential privacy issues aside, this is actually quite a brilliant idea considering most non-techies find it difficult to understand what program/process should be allowed to run at boot and which ones should not. However, ideas may look great on paper (or, in this case, may look good on a computer screen), but it is really the implementation that makes or breaks a project. While Soluto has received glowing reviews from many popular tech blogs and websites, lets do a dotTech analysis to see if Soluto really is cut out to be as good as it looks.

Before Soluto is able to provide you with advice on what to do, Soluto needs to analyze the programs/processes that run at boot. So, to do that, after Soluto is installed you need to restart your computer…

…and let Soluto do its thing. On the reboot after installation of Soluto, Soluto starts to monitor the programs/processes that run at boot for you:

Once the monitoring has finished, Soluto gathers the relevant data from the PC Genome database (regarding the programs it found to be running at boot)…

…and displays suggestions for you regarding what you should pause, delay, or leave as-is:

Soluto splits up programs/processes into three categories:

  • “No-brainer” – Programs/processes marked in green are highly recommended to either be removed from boot or at least paused. According to Soluto, removing or pausing these programs shouldn’t cause any problems on your computer:

  • “Potentially removable” – Programs/processes marked in orange may or may not be removed from boot or paused without causing problems on your computer; hence only “advanced” users are suggested to look at the programs/processes marked in orange and decide if they are necessary or not.:

  • “Required” – Programs/processes marked in gray are ones that Soluto considers to be critical to your computer and removing or pausing any could cause problems. Soluto won’t even let you pause or remove any required ones:

As programs/processes are paused or delayed, they are neatly ordered and color coded to reflect their new status:

Users always have the option to go back and undo the changes they made to each individual program/process:

Soluto automatically gathers data about which programs you allow, pause, or delay. However, Soluto has a “wiki mode” that allows users to directly give input to the Soluto team (i.e. if you think their data or recommendation is wrong or incomplete):

Access to the wiki for each program is available via the pencil icons you see attached to each program/process when you scroll for them.

Now, the features of Soluto looks fairly solid, but what about the performance? Well, Soluto is a new product; its performance relies heavily on how much data is present in the PC Genome database. Since Soluto is a new product, the database right now is very skimpy. For example, in one of my screenshots about you will notice Soluto has no data on avast! (aside from what other users did with it), a very popular free anti-virus program. (As a side note, it seems like any program Soluto does not have enough data about [i.e. it does not know what it is] is thrown into the “Potentially removable” category.) Then, some of the data it does have is inaccurate. For example, when I ran Soluto on one of my computers, it listed Digsby (a multiplatform instant messaging client) and Google Chrome (a web browser) as being “required” when they clearly are not. Not to mention my personal experience with Soluto has been rather shameful.

You see I am one of those people that like to keep a tight grip on what runs at boot for my computer; so I did not expect Soluto to worth any magic on my computer since my boot was fairly clean to begin with. However, I did not expect Soluto to make my boot slower either. With Soluto I was able to delay a few minor programs and make my boot 4 seconds faster (not surprising because, as I said, my boot is fairly clean already); but Soluto itself slowed my boot by 9 seconds, coming out to a net gain of 5 seconds (gain as in increased boot time).

The net gain would not have been so bad if Soluto had a feature to turn off the boot analysis it conducts (the boot analysis is the primary cause of the boot slowdown caused by Soluto). Sadly, the developer of Soluto seems to there is a need to run the boot analysis every freaking time the freaking computer is booted. Now in regards to building the PC Genome project, the more data collected, the better, so running a boot analysis on every boot makes sense. However, in regards to user friendliness and common sense, running a boot analysis on every boot is uncalled for… especially when the boot analysis contradicts the main purpose of Soluto by making boot slower. What makes the situation even worse is if you decide you don’t want to put up with Soluto running every time you boot your computer, the only option you have is to uninstall Soluto (there is no way to disable the boot analysis) in which case all the programs you paused or delayed are reverted back to their original state. Bummer, isn’t it?

Other areas where Soluto can be improved are allowing the user to control exactly how long to delay a program (currently there is no feature to do this as far as I can tell – programs are just “delayed for a short time”) and allowing delayed programs to run minimized (they all run maximized currently). Of course a bigger and more accurate PC Genome database is the best area of improvement but that is something that is mostly out of the developer’s control and depends on community involvement. (Although, since the PC Genome database is so critical to Soluto, the developer may want to consider paying PC users as an incentive to run Soluto and allow the PC Genome database to be fed.)

That said, what about privacy? Clearly Soluto collects data from every users’ computer… so isn’t Soluto a privacy hazard? Well, according to Soluto’s developer the answer is no (meaning Soluto is not a privacy risk). In many places on their website the developer states Soluto collects anonymous usage data…

  • …Every action executed by every user of the boot feature is gathered anonymously into the PCGenome database…
  • …Soluto’s software application collects anonymous technical information from your PC so that we may provide actionable recommendations to our users. The information collected is not related to your Personal Information. The information collected includes, for example, the behavior of software applications on your PC and your installation and uninstallation of applications on your PC…

…and Soluto has a fairly clear privacy policy and ethical code. In fact, I am fairly impressed by their ethical code which once again states only anonymous data is collected but, more importantly, claims “Soluto will make this dataset [the PC Genome] freely available, for the public to analyze and deduce conclusions regarding software and hardware performance.”

Now, don’t drink all of Soluto’s kool-aid. Soluto is not a non-profit and they are backed by venture capitalists, so they surely have a business plan in place to turn a profit. How they will turn a profit and if they will stick to their ethical code will be the interesting part. My guess is they will try to make money by either consulting with hardware and software vendors (using the PC Genome database as a guide on how to improve those products) or selling commercial licenses to hardware and software vendors to gain access to the PC Genome database. After all, knowledge is power. (What, you didn’t think Facebook is valued over $11 billion just because of Farmville… did you?) Of course those are just my guesstimates… only time will tell what really happens.

In the end, the amount of success users will currently have with Soluto – in regards to improving boot time – will vary greatly because of the not-so-large PC Genome database. However, Soluto has laid a solid foundation and the framework for a great product has already been set (with a few minor tweaks needed here and there as I mentioned in my article above). Now the success or failure of Soluto depends on how many people decide to use it. Soluto is a fairly new product and currently is in Beta, so it may not work magic for you yet but it surely is an interesting concept worth keeping an eye on. (In the worst case scenario that Soluto does not help you lower boot time at all, you won’t walk away empty handed. After using Soluto you will at least know how long it takes to boot your computer, which in of itself is handy to know.) You can access Soluto from the following links:

Version reviewed: Beta (exact version number not given)

Supported OS: Windows XP/Vista/Win7

Special note: .NET Framework 3.5 is required to run Soluto

Download size: The installer is only about 900 KB but about during installation Soluto (and .NET Framework if you don’t have it) is downloaded. I am not sure how large these downloads are.

Soluto homepage [direct download]

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