Presto, and your PC is on

Instant-on capability isn't entirely unknown on Windows machines, but those who spend too much time around Mac or Linux folk may find that its availability -- mostly laptops and tablets, mostly higher-end gear -- is too limited to countenance. To the rescue comes Xandros' Presto Instant-On -- as long as you're willing to apply yourself to a bit of setup effort. (Think of it as making time to save time.)

Xandros has been making a name for itself on various fronts, most interestingly as part of the software that made the first Eee netbooks such a kick in the pants for the PC market. They're good at interoperability across Windows and Linux, and the Presto software takes good advantage of Linux's speed and light system load while behaving -- we found -- as politely as one might hope for a Windows app.

We tried it on a fairly bad-tempered XP machine; the software-only Presto works on Vista as well. The download's a whopping 463 MB, and setup's no joke either. You'll want all your favorite usernames and passwords handy, since you're going to need to configure the stuff you use -- Skype, IM, Wi-Fi access and so on, depending on what you like to do with your machine. The download also includes a multimedia player (specifically, RealPlayer for Netbooks), a document editor, and a browser. More apps are available through the Presto Applications Store.

Once installed, you'll see a new start screen when you switch on your machine, asking you to choose between the Presto environment and the usual Windows. (If you don't choose, it'll kick over to normal Windows startup in 30 seconds.) We found that after the initial bout of configuration, Presto did indeed boot rapidly; in under 10 seconds, we had a funky toolbar loaded along the left side of the screen, and our files and applications were ready to go. Shutdown was even quicker -- a few seconds at most.

And that's it. The utility is an .exe and, as such, behaves as Windows executable files do. We found it perfectly simple to remove from our system using the usual Add/Remove Programs tool in XP (in Vista, Programs and Features). Meanwhile, the company tells us that Presto is not subject to fragmentation, so speed should remain constant over a long period of use.

It's not right for every machine -- an attempt to load it on a beloved tablet was a failure, since the screen drivers weren't available. (Your reporter suggests taking a spin through the support forums to see if your specific machine has any known difficulties running the Presto utility.) But if yours does, frankly, it's hard to imagine what you'd need to run under most circumstances that couldn't be run through Presto. (The company estimates that it can fulfill 95% of user needs.) I was able to edit Word docs, play my music and video clips, and hop onto Skype.

There's a free seven-day trial version available; the full version goes for $19.95. The lucky system will need 4 GB of free disk space.

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