Turn Windows Systems into Instant-On Linux Systems with Xandros Presto

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr Rapoza's current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2009-03-27 Email Print this article Print

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While the varying parties in the operating system wars like to tout the advantages that each OS holds over its rivals, all of them share one thing in common. Whether it's Linux, Mac OS X or Windows, none of them are particularly quick about booting up, especially if one is using older hardware.

In fact, along with size and price, one the main attractions of Linux-based netbooks is their ability to turn on and boot up fast, letting their users get to work checking mail and browsing the Web in seconds. So an operating system option that provided close to instant-on capabilities for any laptop or desktop could be an attractive option for many people.

This is the idea behind Presto, a new beta product from Linux vendor Xandros. When installed on a system, Presto gives users the option to quickly boot into a lightweight, netbook-style operating system that provides access to core applications such as Web browsers, chat tools and productivity applications.

I had the chance to test out the Presto beta and I found a lot to like about the system, which made it easy to get most things done, ran quickly and let me turn my system on and off in no time. Also, Presto provides a very nice option to bring useful life back to older laptops and systems, turning them into attractive home Internet appliances or even improved systems for road warriors.

But the beta of Presto also has some problems, especially in hardware support. I installed it on seven systems before I found one that it would work on, though most of those systems were admittedly unusual DIY systems (Xandros has said that one goal of the beta is to find out about systems that have problems and address those issues before release). And while Xandros has provided a good online application store for adding functionality to Presto, there is no option for users to add other Linux applications.

Presto cannot be installed by itself on a system and must be installed on top of a Windows installation. In my successful test of Presto I installed it on a two-year-old HP Pavilion laptop running Windows XP.

Installing Presto is like installing any other Windows application. After installing Presto upon booting I was provided with an OS option screen where I could choose to boot into Windows or Presto.

Testing the speed of boot-up time from this screen (meaning this doesn't include the BIOS boot time), Presto booted up in less than half the time of Windows. On the HP laptop Windows XP took 48 seconds to boot from the OS selection screen in repeated tests. In the same tests, Presto took 20 seconds to boot from the OS selection screen, hardly instant but still impressive.

Even more impressive (and in many ways just as crucial) was the turn off time. Shutting down Presto took two seconds to stop the OS and shut down the laptop (which I would consider instant off). Conversely, shutting down Windows XP on the same system took 44 seconds.

The Presto operating system itself is pretty much what one would expect from a netbook operating system. Presto comes with several applications pre-installed. These include the Firefox Web browser, the Skype client, the Pidgin instant messaging application (which works with all the major IM networks), the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, RealPlayer, and a PDF viewer.

Firefox, Skype and Pidgin can be accessed directly from a side panel and other installed applications are accessed from within the Application Store window. I could find no way to add new applications to appear in the panel, though I could move the panel to different sides of my screen.

Xandros has provided an online store from which users can find and add new applications to their Presto system. Finding and installing applications within this store was very simple, basically letting users just click install.

Watch a video interview on Xandros Presto from DEMO 09

Probably one of the coolest and most unique aspects of Presto is its ability to access files from the Windows system itself. This makes Presto a very nice complement to the Windows desktop, providing quick access to media files and documents without having to boot fully into Windows.

Using the provided file explorer I could browse through my Windows files and play music, view videos and work on documents and spreadsheets directly from Presto.

Presto comes with a good network management tool to help users get their Presto system connected to wireless networks or connect to VPNs. I found the wireless connection tools to be easy to use, though the VPN and the options for connecting to mobile broadband systems would be too complex for basic users.

All in all I found Presto to be very promising for those looking to speed access to their current systems or breathe life into older systems. The current beta is free but Xandros will charge $19.95 for the shipping version.

While experienced Linux users can find free options for adding similar capabilities for their systems, those options tend to be too complex for standard Windows users. Xandros Presto looks like it could be a good option for Windows users who want to add the speed and simplicity of a netbook OS to their existing systems.

To check out Xandros Presto go to www.prestomypc.com

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