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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.