Presto, a fast-loading Linux desktop you install from Windows, lives up to its promise of an alternative, speedy boot-up with quick web/email access. Let's take a look at how it looks and runs.
Presto is free while in beta, but moves to a $US20 paid version on April 13. In the meantime, head to the Presto download site, grab the file (or wait until you have time and bandwidth for 483MB), and install it like any other Windows application.
Presto is a streamlined, stripped-down version of the Xandros distribution of Linux. Hardware manufacturers are doing something similar with embedded Linux chips, like Splashtop, but Presto runs on pretty much any Intel-based system. It was built for boot-up speed, and intends to give laptop users an alternative system to jump into when they really just want to check a site, check their email, or maybe tweak an Office-type file or two without having to wait for everything on their Windows PC to load, and load, and load ...
As you'll see below, Presto installs itself in the Windows Boot Menu as the non-default choice—though we wish it didn't make it so the Windows default now requires an Enter stroke to load up. Regardless, from the boot menu shown below, it took Presto just 15.3 seconds to get to a loaded desktop, with the mouse functional, Firefox responding to a click and loading, and the hard drive not under serious crunch. Windows 7, despite what Gina found in her tests took about 43.3 seconds to get me to a workable point. I'd allow for the fact that my Windows 7 partition has been lived in a bit, with a handful of auto-starting apps and updates having been installed, but Presto is just faster at booting.
And it's probably faster, and possibly less battery-draining, for doing basic tasks, too. A very light and swift window manager and file browser are used, there's not much graphics acceleration or transparency afoot—this thing exists solely to get you into Firefox, or maybe onto Skype or Pidgin, ASAP. Sure, your thumb drive will be recognised, and Presto can read and write to your Windows NTFS-formatted drive by default, but it's really about having a small, agile space to do some work in and then save before the battery runs out.
So, let's check out Presto in action :
After installing Presto from inside Windows, you'll see a new option at the Windows Boot Menu for Presto, usually listed as the non-default choice.
Surprisingly soon after picking Presto, this is the desktop you land on.
Everything's pretty much on the sidebar, there's no right-click options on the desktop, and no taskbar or ability to minimise windows—what you've got open is what you see. Windows can be resized, and accessed from a pop-out menu on the left-hand sidebar, or the standard Alt+Tab keyboard action. It's either a creative constraint or pain in the rear, depending on how you look at it.
Details on what's listed on your sidebar upon booting up. Most are obvious, but the "IM" button launches Pidgin, and the shopping cart icon starts an "Application Store" to install and launch additional apps. The icons on the sidebar can be moved around, but it's not apparent (without some standard Linux text file tweaking) how to add or delete options.
Need more than just a browser, Pidgin, and Skype? The Application Store is where all your non-default apps are stored, and comes pre-loaded with RealPlayer (seriously?), Adobe PDF reader, and OpenOffice.org.
Hit the "Application Store" icon, and a web page launches to search and browse available apps. A good number of our favourite Linux apps and utilities are available, like Picasa, AmaroK, and most of the standards in any GNOME or Linux distribution.
Want to change how that boot menu reads, or shorten the timeout limit from a glacial-seeming 30 seconds? Check out the How-To Geek's tips on how to delete, modify, or disable entries on the XP boot menu (which should work for Vista and 7, too).
Tell us your impressions of Presto, or recommend another speed-demon distribution, in the comments.