Presto Instant-On Operating System Review

Under The Hood

To launch Presto you simply either power up your system or reboot it, and once the system finishes going though POST, the Windows Boot Manager will appear. By default, Windows is selected as the default OS, so if you don't do anything in the allotted time, Windows will then load automatically. Xandros claims that the boot menu will count down from 30 seconds; however, with both of the Presto installs we did on two different systems, we found that the Windows Boot Manager counted down from only 10 seconds. We found, however, that 10 seconds was more than sufficient to choose which OS we wanted to load. If you need more time than that, changing this setting in Windows is fairly simple to do. Also note, as soon as you press the up or down arrow keys in the boot menu, the countdown stops and no OS will load until you select one.

 Presto gets added to the Windows Boot Manager and
the OS choices are displayed for 10 seconds at boot.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Windows desktop and Mac laptop testbeds

  • 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300
  • 8GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM
  • 1TB NTFS 7200RPM SATA hard drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
  • Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit
       MacBook Pro laptop
  • 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo
  • 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 120GB 5400RPM SATA hard drive
  • ATI Radeon X1600 128MB
  • Hard drive partitioned via Boot Camp
  • Mac OS X 10.5.8: 89.9GB (Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
  • Windows XP Professional SP3: 21.6GB (NTFS)

As you must first wait for your system to go through POST before you are even given the option of launching Presto, the "instant-on" aspect of the OS is a bit of a misnomer. On the two systems we installed Presto onto, it took Presto roughly 12 seconds to boot from the moment we selected it via the Windows Boot Manager, and then about another 4 seconds before the OS was fully responsive. All said and done, from powering on the system to Presto being fully responsive, it took both testbed systems just over 30 seconds. While this falls far short of "instant," it is still noticeably quicker than the greater than 1 minute it took to boot in Windows on both systems (it took about 50 seconds to boot into the Mac OS's login screen on the MacBook Pro)--and that doesn't even take into account the additional time that Windows needs to load startup apps and services. Once Presto loaded, it took only another 4 to 6 seconds to launch Firefox and start surfing the Web--from cold boot to Internet access in just over 36 seconds is nothing to sneeze at.

 The default Presto desktop with the Installed Applications window open.
(We installed the Screen Capture app so we can take screenshots.)
The error message on the right side of the screen is because Presto
cannot read the system's HFS+ Mac OS formatted partition.

Presto does not have a login screen--when it launches, it takes you directly to the Presto desktop. The OS does not support multiple users and you cannot password protect the Presto OS login. (A Xandros rep informed us that they "are investigating this along with other options to enable user authentication for a future release.") The lack of password protection could be major security issue for some users--especially if you keep sensitive data on your system. One of the features of the Presto OS is that you can read and write files stored in Windows folders (Presto includes a driver that enables reading and writing to the NTFS file system). While this can be a benefit to many, it can also represent a big security hole to others. Even if you password protect access to the Windows OS, the Presto OS potentially represents back-door read and write access to your Windows files. Note that Presto will not work on NTFS disks that use disk encryption.

 There aren't many options in the Presto Settings window.

When you boot into the Presto OS, you are greeted by a very sparse looking desktop. Other than the default Presto wallpaper, a taskbar sits on the left side of the screen. The taskbar features shortcuts for some of Presto's preloaded apps, including Firefox (version 3.5.2), Pidgin (version 2.5.5) instant message client, Skype (version, and Thunar (version) 1.0.0 file manager. The taskbar also includes links for the Presto Application Store (more on this below), Windows List (a list of all running apps), system shutdown and reboot, volume adjustments, network connections, and Presto Settings. The network connections app provides a simple and efficient means of connecting the system to wireless network connections. The Presto Settings however are minimal, with options only for Monitor Settings, Add/Remove Keyboards, and Import Benchmarks. Presto does not come with any power savings features, screen savers, printer drivers, or other similar type settings that are status quo in more robust operating systems.

 The xfce4-settings-manager.

It is possible to access some of Presto's more advanced settings via the OS's xfce4-settings-manager; but accessing the settings app is not obvious, unless you are already familiar with Linux. You can invoke the settings app from the terminal (you open a terminal window by pressing <Ctrl>+<Alt>+T) or by navigating to the app in /usr/bin using the file manager.

The Presto Application Store.

Presto also comes preloaded with OpenOffice (version 3.0.1) and RealPlayer (version We got RealPlayer to successfully play a wide variety of audio and video files that were stored in Windows folders--including even a 1080p WMV file. We also successfully opened both docx and xlsx files in OpenOffice. With these and the above-mentioned apps, you should be able to access the Internet, IM, Skype, listen to audio files, watch video files, and utilize an office productivity suite--all with relative ease. Users who want to increase the functionality of the Presto OS and or additional applications, can find a bevy of options at the Presto Application Store--most of which are free.

 After we installed some applications from the
Presto Application Store.

We downloaded and installed a number of free apps from the Presto Application Store, including Adobe Reader 9, AVG for Linux Workstation (antivirus software), a Gmail notification app, FTP software, the GIMP photo editor app, a Java virtual machine, and a printing-support applet. With all this free software, we were able to greatly increase the capabilities of what Presto could do.

 Konqueror's main screen.

If there is one app we heartily recommend you install, it would be have to be Konqueror, which bills itself as "KDE's advanced File Manager, Web Browser and Document Viewer." Konqueror is like a Swiss Army Knife of file access options and system settings. It even includes a screen saver with hot-corners support and multiple desktops.

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