Cutting the Waste of Waiting with PC Bootup


In Age of Impatience, Cutting PC Start Time –

Honestly — how many of us just sat and stared at our PC when it booted up this morning? According to the NY Times, many of us do.

It is the black hole of the digital age — the three minutes it can take for your computer to boot up, when there is nothing to do but wait, and wait, and wait some more before you can log on and begin multitasking at hyper-speed.

Some people stare at their screen and fidget. Others pace or grab a cup of coffee. “Half the time, I go brush my teeth,” said Monica Loos, 40, who is starting a business selling stationery online from her home in San Francisco.

It's such an obvious situation, you'd wonder why it's “news.” Imagine that…. do something else instead of staring at the screen?

There's a direct parallel to Lean concepts in a manufacturing environment. Lean people preach that workers shouldn't stand and stare at their machine (CNC or otherwise) while it's running… that's waste. The same should be true with office workers, right? It also reminds of Bruce Hamilton in the the “Toast Kaizen” video when he stands and stares at his toaster while it's toasting. It's such obvious waste, but it's a waste that's often ignored in different workplaces.

It's true in hospital labs — when you have a piece of testing automation, the highly skilled Medical Technologist doesn't have to stand and wastch the expensive piece of automation doing its work. Those of you familiar with “cellular” layouts in manufacturing (where an employee, yes, often a single person walks a loop around the inside of a U-shaped cell) would recognize the concept being applied in many hospital laboratories. Instead of “one person, one machine” (which many “non-Lean” factories and some hospital labs have), you can have one person running multiple machines.

That said, it *is* horribly annoying that computers take so long to boot up. I haven't timed them, but I'm pretty certain that my MacBook and my converted Linux laptop each boot up faster than Windows 2000 or Windows XP (yes, I'm a geekazoid).

Some computer makers are working on faster-booting machines:

“It's ridiculous to ask people to wait a couple of minutes,” said Sergei Krupenin, executive director of marketing of DeviceVM, a company that makes a quick-boot program for PC makers. “People want instant-on.”

Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo are rolling out machines that give people access to basic functions like e-mail and a Web browser in 30 seconds or less. Asus, a Taiwanese company that is the world's largest maker of the circuit boards at the center of every PC, has begun building faster-booting software into its entire product line.

What about Microsoft?

Even Microsoft, whose bloated Windows software is often blamed for sluggish start times, has pledged to do its part in the next version of the operating system, saying on a company blog that “a very good system is one that boots in under 15 seconds.” Today only 35 percent of machines running the latest version of Windows, called Vista, boot in 30 seconds or less, the blog notes. (Apple Macintoshes tend to boot more quickly than comparable Windows machines but still feel glacially slow to most users.)

My MacBook isn't glacially slow, as long as you don't stare at it. In fact, I rarely have to reboot my Mac — the sleep mode wakes up and works much more reliably than any Windows machine I've ever used…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I’m quite pissed of by that lag, so at work my daily routine includes turning the computer on, then leaving to grab a cup of coffee. At home, my PC is always in wake mode (except the few times it crashes) and I love my eeePC that boots fully operational (like, no waiting for antivirus software, MSN, or the like) in 20 sec timed.

    But there’s definitely some lean efforts to be done in this area. Go Asus and Mac !

  2. In Toyota’s perspective on Standardized Work, you may hear someone say, “It’s a sin for the operator to wait for the machine to complete it’s work.” If people are the most valuable resource, we want to make their work efficient, fully productive, and value-added.

    So, it’s ok (although undesirable) for the machine to wait for the worker to complete his/her work.

    On my Toshiba laptop, there are buttons that allow me to startup a DVD quickly (without loading Windows). Why can’t Microsoft re-architect Windows to do the same thing and turn on functionality in layers?

    Partly, this has to do with the batch size of software — if they built the OS as a series of widgets, perhaps it would perform more efficiently and match the takt time of the user (customer)…

  3. “Functionality in layers” is a good idea, but in my experience (as and IT professional), most end users want one-touch functionality right now.

    However, a consistent two-minute start up time should be bearable. While I know an exception exists somewhere, could that missing two minutes NOT be made up somewhere in the work day (like taking time to comment on blogs).

  4. Well, legend has it that back in the development days of the Macintosh (1983?) Steve Jobs used to drive the OS development team to cut every second possible off of the boot-up time by saying something like, “millions of people are going to be using the Mac, every second you shave off of the boot-up time is going to save days, weeks, and months for humanity!” Anyway, could we say that Jobs was a lean visionary?

  5. I guess the antithesis of Apple’s Mac is Microsoft. I think every time my corp upgrades to a newer version of excel that the bugs and quirks will be fixed but they never do. I can imagine some discussion at Microsoft about how the users have become so adept at overcoming the bugs and quirks that users will miss them if they get fixed. On the other hand, am using Vista at home and am duly impressed.

  6. You captured the essence of the story but here is a first hand account of Jobs prodding the developers to cut time from booting up:

    Andy Hertzfeld
    Date: August 1983
    Characters: Steve Jobs, Larry Kenyon
    Topics: Software Design, Inspiration
    Summary: Steve wants us to make the Macintosh boot faster
    Revision: most recent of 3

    We always thought of the Macintosh as a fast computer, since its 68000 microprocessor was effectively 10 times faster than an Apple II, but our Achilles heel was the floppy disk. We had limited RAM, so it was often necessary to load data from the floppy, but there we were no faster than an Apple II. Once we had real applications going, it was clear the floppy disk was going to be a significant bottleneck.

    One of the things that bothered Steve Jobs the most was the time that it took to boot when the Mac was first powered on. It could take a couple of minutes, or even more, to test memory, initialize the operating system, and load the Finder. One afternoon, Steve came up with an original way to motivate us to make it faster.

    Larry Kenyon was the engineer working on the disk driver and file system. Steve came into his cubicle and started to exhort him. “The Macintosh boots too slowly. You’ve got to make it faster!”

    Larry started to explain about some of the places where he thought that he could improve things, but Steve wasn’t interested. He continued, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day.”

    “Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?”

    We were pretty motivated to make the software go as fast as we could anyway, so I’m not sure if this pitch had much effect, but we thought it was pretty humorous, and we did manage to shave more than ten seconds off the boot time over the next couple of months.


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