Microsoft Outlook is available on Windows PCs, phones, tablets, and Mac computers… but what about your laptop’s BIOS? HP tried that years ago.
Cohost user @cathoderaydude published a long blog post this week that calls attention to a feature that HP developed for some of its business laptops in the late 2000s, called HP QuickLook. It’s an application that runs entirely in the BIOS as an EFI program, giving you access to your calendar, email, contacts, and other data without waiting for Windows to boot up. That’s an interesting idea in theory, but the post mentions that “the UI updates at maybe 10fps,” and it only made sense in an era where solid state drives were still slightly too expensive to use in most laptops.
It’s not clear exactly when this was introduced, but the earliest available documents have a copyright date of 2008. HP previously developed other software features for quickly booting into a barebones computer environment, such as “QuickWeb,” but those were based on Linux. QuickLook runs directly in the BIOS, interfacing with data provided by a custom plugin developed for Microsoft Outlook. The plugin copied your Outlook data to a specific folder while the email app was running, which QuickLook could access later without the need for a full operating system.
QuickLook isn’t just a dashboard that appears before booting up Windows, though. There’s an additional feature called HP Daystarter, available as a BIOS setting, which displays your agenda on the screen while Windows is starting. The blog post explains, “The theory […] is that Daystarter gets loaded by HP’s EFI (i assume before it goes to CSM mode) and traps a certain interrupt or IO access. As Windows is starting, it keeps updating the VGA framebuffer to move the progress bar. Daystarter traps that event, throws it away, and instead writes its own content to the framebuffer. It also uses this opportunity to check the keyboard buffer for an F4 or F3, so it can take user input.”
HP seemingly continued developing QuickLook for a while. One document on HP’s website from 2009 shows off QuickLook 3, which allowed you to respond to emails, and any messages you wrote would be sent once Windows and Outlook finished starting up.
If you’re interested in more technical details and photos, check out the original blog post in the source link below. It’s a fun (and mildly concerning) throwback to when PC makers were coming up with creative solutions to the slow speeds of hard drives.
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