Review: Presto Instant-On Revives Old PCs

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

Xandros updates the appeal of Linux with Presto, an "instant-on" operating system designed to work on Windows PCs.

Despite the hype, despite the value and despite the technology, Linux hasn’t made a significant impact on the desktop PC market. Sure, there are exceptions and some low-end PCs or netbooks come with Linux preinstalled, but for the most part Microsoft Windows rules supreme on the PC.

Xandros is taking a new approach to fuel the Linux market. The company is offering Presto, a distribution of the open-source operating system that offers something Windows doesn't—an "instant-on" boot-up experience.

Presto is designed to work with Windows and uses a new approach to entice people into the Linux realm. The idea is simple: Offer users two ways to boot up their system—almost instantly with Presto or the traditional "wait and see" approach. In practice, most users will still probably boot up with Windows; they are used to the time it takes. But, once in a while, when someone needs to quickly access the Web, check e-mail or perform some other simple task, Presto will make that almost instantaneous.

For solution providers, there’s another angle for Presto: The product can breathe new life into old PCs, where boot times have become frustrating and overall system speed has fallen below acceptable levels.

There’s a power-saving angle here, too. PC users that normally leave their PCs on all the time to avoid waiting can now shut down the PC when not in use, assured that they can have near instantaneous access to the Web or basic applications. With that in mind, Presto becomes ideal for waiting area PCs, Internet cafe PCs, hotel lobbies, and so on.

System builders can benefit also by including Presto as the base operating system on their white box PCs, making Windows an option and cutting base prices significantly. The speed improvements offered by Presto can shift the OS argument from Windows versus Linux to, "How fast do you want to use your PC?"

Channel Insider tested the latest Presto beta on a few different PCs and the results were impressive. Available as a download, Presto installs from an executable file, which can be run from a USB drive or directly from the desktop. Installation is simple and only takes a few minutes.

During installation, Presto adds an entry to the Windows Boot Manager. Once the system is booted after the Presto install, the Boot Manager pops up and offer users the ability to choose between Windows and Presto. If no selection is made, Windows will boot after 30 seconds. Users can choose between Windows and Presto to avoid the 30-second wait.

If Presto is selected from the boot menu, the operating system loads up in less than five seconds (at least on our test systems; older PCs may take longer). We installed Presto on a Hewlett-Packard workstation with an Intel Xeon CPU, a white box system running an Intel Core i7 processor and on a Fujitsu T series convertible notebook.

We were surprised at how well each of the systems was supported by Presto, especially the Fujitsu T series notebook. The operating system recognized all of the major components and included an extensive driver library to make sure that most PCs will work without any problems.

On the Fujitsu, Presto was able to work with the integrated wireless, as well as identify battery capacity and most of the other notebook-specific features. Presto did fail to recognize the tablet features of the Fujitsu and we were unable to use the digitizer pen as a pointer. Other than that, Presto worked without any noticeable flaws.

Our other two test PCs also worked fine, with Presto recognizing all of the major components and installing the appropriate drivers, including integrated video, audio and networking hardware. Using Presto is quite easy. The operating system offers a simple GUI, which sports shortcuts for Firefox, Skype, File Manager and a few other critical applications.

Launching applications was extremely fast and each was very responsive. Presto can access the Windows partition on the hard disk, allowing users to quickly copy files from Presto to Windows and vice versa. Unlike the Splashtop, the embedded Linux found on some ASUS motherboards, users can install additional applications on Presto and customize the Presto environment. That capability enables solution providers to install Linux applications such as WINE to run windows applications directly in the Presto operating system or install rdesktop, a Linux application that can run Windows Terminal Services sessions.

Based on our tests, Xandros Presto proves to be a powerful tool for enhancing the capabilities of newer laptops and breathing new life into older, slower Windows machines.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com