Access Outlook data without booting your ultra-portable


Firstware_assistant_1Ultra-portable computers like the OQO and Sony U-70 are beginning to bridge the gap between laptop and PDA due to the small form factor.  It is becoming easy to carry your entire computer with you almost everywhere you go.  One of the obstacles that prevents some UPC owners from leaving the PDA at home is the need to have quick access to the PIM data on the computer.  Even though these first UPCs have gone quite a ways towards minimizing the time needed to turn on the computer and check a phone number, there are still some improvements that could be made in this area.

Phoenix is a company that has been making BIOS for computers for a long time and they know a thing or two about the boot process.  If anybody can figure out a way to let the user work with their PIM information without actually booting up the computer they would be the ones to do it.  Phoenix has recently announced a product that tackles that issue, the Phoenix FirstWare Assistant 2004.  FirstWare Assistant will be added by the computer OEM and is a program that lets you fully interact with your Outlook data while the computer is still booting.  This is perfect for the UPCs I’ve mentioned but will also be a great boon for Tablet PC users.  Read on to see the full feature list.

UPDATE:  System Requirements (this leaves out the OQO)

  • Pentium 4 or Pentium M class mobile PCs
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP operating system
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002/XP/2003

(via PocketPC Thoughts)

Features and benefits:
For mobile PCs, Phoenix FirstWare Assistant 2004 introduces a revolutionary rapid-on extension of productivity applications within the Phoenix Core Managed Environment.



Rapid-on access to user PIM data and email

Increased ease-of-use and customer value perception of your mobile PC products. New up-sell features and profit multipliers. Improved margins.

Information Update

Add or change information in rapid-on environment that is sychronized back into Outlook.

Integration at the Microsoft Outlook client level

Transparent implementation within established Microsoft Outlook environment. Non-invasive to Microsoft Exchange infrastructure.

Existing Partition Deployment

Minimal deployment time and costs. Available for new and installed PCs.

Readily customized user interface

Greater brand awareness and brand preference. Reduced development time and cost.



Sad to hear, I am thinking about getting myself an Acer TMC 303XMi and was hoping that FWA would prove to be handy. I am certain it would work on this device, but I don’t feel like installing a trial without at least some screenies.

BTW – chat me up on MSN – I might have something re: hosting.


I was never able to get the Phoenix software working on the U. It must be activated upon power on or resume prior to when the U hardware buttons are live and it won’t work with any USB keyboard I tried. The Phoenix guys were willing to work with me to try to get it working but I didn’t have additional time to get it going. Interestingly, the software apparently boots a tiny Linux kernel which is why it doesn’t need Windows working to run. From all that I’ve seen of the program I don’t think it will ever work on the U in its current form.


jk, just curious – did you ever post that review? I’m interested in seeing more screenshots :-)

Wendy D.

How disappointing! I was looking into this software too, from CNET’s article (with a link to download the freeware trial) at:

I went to the Yahoo U70 group and posted a question about getting it to work w/o a keyboard. Guess I should have known to come here first! =:D

Getting my U750 today via FedEx. YIPPEEEEEEEEE!!


UPDATE: The Phoenix s/w requires a keyboard to be attached to invoke it which minimizes its usefulness on the U. I can’t even get it to work with a USB keyboard w/o an error anyway. Phoenix tech support called me to try and get it working but I haven’t had time to call them back.

Interestingly enough, when it errors out it generates Linux kernel errors so its actually running in Linux.


The Sony U remote control drivers (for the headphones) let you play with the screen off.


The software installs a pre-boot option so when you hit the power on button a one line request to hit the key F to start FirstWare Assistant appears. If you hit nothing for about 5 seconds the computer proceeds with a normal boot. There is a downloadable demo available at the FirstWare web site in the article that works for either 30 or 60 days. Pay particular attention to the hardware requirements.

So far it will not work on the Sony U70 as there is no built in keyboard and trying to use it with a USB keyboard generates an error. Interestingly enough, this error indicates that FA is booting a tiny Linux kernel to run the viewer. I am working with Phoenix to determing why it won’t work on the U but personally don’t hold much hope for this. It really needs a h/w button to invoke it and there is no way to define one in this unbooted stage.


Very interesting, already I’m impatient to know the details, like how do you go into this mode from Off? Do you press the Power button and then a function key to go into FirstWare Assistant? Any plans from Phoenix to offer this as a retail upgrade?

Is there any possibility Phoenix will release other “FirstWare”, like, say a music player that can work with Windows Media Player recognized files and run with the screen off for better battery life? :D Some multimedia-centric laptops already let users play DVDs or music CDs without turning on the machine, why not make this available on handtops? I loved how I could switch my CLIE to HOLD mode and let it play, pause and move through MP3s with the wired remote with the battery-depleting LCD turned off, and that would have been an excellent feature on the Sony type U!


I haven’t had to boot my U-70 in two weeks. Hibernate and standby work flawlessly for me, and it’s true that standby takes about 2 seconds. But I still see a use for a program like this because you can leave your UPC truly turned off to save power. Hit the power button and you immediately get your Outlook data. When you’re finished doing what you wanted, say look up a phone # or something, you hit a button on the screen telling it to turn off. Instant off. Not standby holding some power for memory and not hibernation that will take about 10 seconds to come out of, true power off. Could be important when flying too, if you need to sneak your UPC on to check something.


Book, my U50 comes out of suspend and running 0utlook in about2 seconds.

It’s already a PIM and a lot more.


I’m very interested in this, and can’t wait to hear your thoughts. Please include a section for the person who uses a PDA and would like to move to a handheld computer that does PDA functions.

The hardware is a little too expensive right now for me to get a handheld or even a tablet PC, but I’m sure that it won’t be for too long. My question is whether a device using something like this can really be a full PIM with REAL instant on, and how much of a pain it is to get back to Windows. I assume a full boot is necessary for that after using the PIM functions.
I’d like to see something that can “take over” the hardware in the midst of running Windows, so you get sort of a parallel PDA on the same hardware. They can communicate via file systems if nec.
But if it doesn’t do the PIM as well as a PDA, it’s no better than having Outlook, is it?
By the way, why all the long boot times for Windows? There’s got to be a way to do that work in the background while Windows is running. Contrary to one comment on Pocket PC Thoughts, it really is a problem for laptops even if they do have standby. For example, on my laptop at least, some of my network connections get messed up pretty badly. For another, a lot of times I don’t want to wear down the battery on standby for long periods of time. And how many people have never had to reboot (frequently!) So I don’t want to boot or come out of standby, but I still want instant and easy to use PIM functions.
I guess it will be a long time before I can rid myself of a PPC and just have a full-desktop equivalent in my hand.


I am currently evaluating this software and will write a mini-review when that process is complete.

System Requirements:
Pentium 4 or Pentium M class mobile PCs
Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP operating system
Microsoft Outlook 2002/XP/2003

Comments are closed.