Xandros Presto Linux is a lightweight version of Xandros Linux, boasting very quick boot times.

Does the average Windows PC or laptop really need to spend two minutes or more booting up and then perhaps half that again powering down? According to Xandros, the makers of the cut-down Linux OS, Presto, if all a user wants to do is browse the web and use a handful of basic applications, it can be done in seconds either way.

Xandros Presto Linux is - for want of a better term - a ‘lightweight' version of the company's Debian-derived Linux distribution, and no prizes for guessing the thinking behind its name. Chopped down to a basic stub that boots in the presence of Windows, it fires up in seconds, and shuts down equally rapidly. Loading it from a laptop also running Windows XP, it becomes obvious how bloated Windows has become over the years by comparison, even in its supposedly clean XP form.

On our test laptop, Xandros Presto Linux booted into a usable form in around 12 seconds, and closed down in seven. Some TV appliances take as long to turn on and off.

The Xandros Presto Linux concept is in much the same mould as the ExpressGate Linux (from SplashTop) once seen on Asus netbooks and notebooks.

The point about this rapid booting is that it is convenient. If all you need is to use a web browser, access Skype, and perhaps some quick photo editing using Picassa, then Xandros Presto Linux looks ideal. But look a little deeper and another thought occurs. The basic Xandros Presto Linux download is a hefty 462MB download, but within that you get the OpenOffice suite too. You can then download a wide range of other apps (see below) and it occurs that perhaps Presto can not only compliment Windows, but, in the majority of everyday situations, replace it.

It ran a little slower on our test laptop than did the native Windows XP, but not by much. As long as you can find an app for every need, then what are its limitations?

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The only technical requirements to install Xandros Presto Linux are that the PC has either Windows XP or Vista already installed, has 512MB of RAM, and 3.5GB of hard disk space, formatted with NTFS. That disk format will apply to all copies to Vista and perhaps all but a few copies of XP. For those that aren't, FAT32 partitions can be turned into NTFS using the ‘convert' utility. SCSI drives and RAID are not supported.

There are a few other issues to watch out for. Machines using nVidia graphics drivers are said to boot more slowly (a driver issue out of Xandros' control) and anyone using a wireless keyboard will have problems selecting it from the command line in place of XP, as Xandros hasn't figured out how to load the driver early enough.

Loading it on two separate systems was completed without incident in minutes, with a Wi-Fi internet connection up and running in only seconds once the passkey had been entered. No faffing about wondering what to do next, Xandros Presto Linux just asked for what it needed with preternatural diligence. Because it is so basic, there is simply no learning curve.

The Xandros Presto Linux software comes with its own very simple file manager (providing access to your Windows files), along with Skype, access to any one of a host of IM systems, the Firefox browser, OpenOffice 3.0, and RealPlayer media player. There are also tools to import browser bookmarks and configure video settings.

Additional downloadable apps include Acrobat reader, AVG's anti-virus, Gimp (for photo editing), and Java, should that be needed. Anyone familiar with the Linux world will find a utility to fill any nook and cranny which is another way of saying that the user won't be short of add-on software, to match the supposed depth and diversity of the Windows world.

Perhaps this is Xandros's motivation in releasing Xandros Presto Linux - it's a way for a Windows user to dip their toes in the Linux world without having to abandon the safety blanket of Windows and the assurance of being able to run familiar apps.

The slight ‘gotcha' of Xandros Presto Linux is that it costs $19.95 (around £14), for a license that allows you to install the software on five PCs

NEXT: Our expert verdict >>

Xandros Presto Linux [PCA]: Specs

  • PC already running Windows XP or Vista
  • NTFS file system
  • 3.5GB disk space
  • 512MB RAM
  • PC already running Windows XP or Vista
  • NTFS file system
  • 3.5GB disk space
  • 512MB RAM


Xandros seems to have set out to be pragmatic about Windows, seeking not to replace it, but to work within its monopoly. Not every Linuxite has taken to that strategy in recent times. But what does a Linux distro change if it's never actually used by anyone other than a techie or software acitivist? Presto's strength is that it could be used by the everyday user to pep up an ageing Windows system past its best, or just to get faster booting than with a sclerotic Vista machine. It's not really a business-oriented system, but at under 15 quid for a five-seat license this looks to us like a bargain.

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