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Intelligent Machines

Software Works Out What's Troubling a PC

A startup hopes to help computer users tune their machines.

Even a brand new computer can be slowed down by a particular combination of hardware or software, and it’s difficult to figure out what’s wrong. Soluto, a startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel, that launched this week, hopes to offer users advice on how to avoid this kind of slowdown.

Soluto’s software runs in the background on a PC and is designed to detect problems that slow a machine down as well as solutions that speed it up again. The idea is to collect this information and use it to recommend software and hardware fixes to other users. “We know when you’re frustrated, we know what causes it, and if you do something smart to your PC, we learn from it,” says Roee Adler, chief product officer for the company.

Soluto’s first product, launched this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City, is designed to address problems that slow down a computer as it starts. The free version of the software simply observes what’s happening on the machine and recommends fixes to speed up the process. The company also sells a premium version that performs fixes automatically. Soluto hopes that this product will appeal to less tech-savvy consumers and to small businesses and enterprises. This product collects a lot more information about what’s happening on a user’s PC, which it stores in Soluto’s “PC Genome” database.

Adler explains that the company has spent two and a half years working on algorithms that can recognize when a user is frustrated with his or her PC. The software learns from how people deal with these problems in order to recommend changes that can help other users. Soluto’s software communicates with a Web server that stores statistical data that’s used to interpret what’s happening on the machine.

The software observes events such as repeated mouse clicks–which may indicate that the user is not getting a response–and sudden shifts in how the PC is using resources, which may mean that programs are fighting over resources. Users can also manually inform Soluto that the computer is experiencing difficulties, and this causes the system to pay particular attention to recent events on the machine.

A common scenario, Adler says, is a user working in Excel when the computer suddenly slows down. This might be because the user’s antivirus software has suddenly started updating itself, initiating a battle for resources. Once the software sees that there’s a problem, it waits to see if the user has figured out a solution. If the problem happens less frequently, Soluto’s software attempts to identify changes to the system–such as the removal of software or changes to settings–that could correlate with the improvement. Once data is gathered from a large enough number of users, the system can recommend actions that could help other users.

Adler notes that the statistical aspect is important here–in many cases, problems are caused by how particular versions of a piece of software interact with particular hardware and a particular version of Windows. By collecting that data, Soluto can show users what’s worked for others who run the same systems.

The company says it is conscious of privacy concerns. Adler says the software collects no information about the user–no registration details are required to download the program, and Soluto gathers no information about the users’ demographics. Soluto has so far raised $7.8 million in two rounds of funding.

The judges at the Disrupt conference liked Soluto but expressed concerns about how it would distribute its products. The logical partnership is with PC vendors, said Chi-Hua Chien, a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, which has not invested in Soluto. However, he added that Soluto probably would not be able to make such deals because many PC vendors have deals to load their machines with the software that may slow them down.

Shmuel Chafets, director of business development at Giza Venture Capital, one of Soluto’s investors, says the investment appealed to him because of its technical sophistication and broad consumer appeal. “If you have ever owned a PC, if you’ve used it for even an hour, you understand what Soluto does,” Chafets says,

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