Giving Windows the (quick) boot

I’m a Mac and Linux user, but usually carry a MacBook Air when I’m in my various workplaces. When I go to meetings, most people turn up with laptops. There then follows an hilarious charade. The folks with Macs open up their laptops and are typing or browsing in about 30 seconds. The Wintel users open up their machines and then sit there for several minutes looking glum while Windows winds itself up, stretches, yawns, does some impenetrable calisthenics and performs a leisurely search to see if, by any chance, there happens to be a wireless network around.

Not surprisingly, then, this Technology Review post caught my eye.

Thousands of hours are wasted every year waiting for computers to boot up. A Windows machine can take a couple of minutes to get going and to shut down again. In extreme cases, the entire process can take as long as 30 minutes, according to people who’ve filed lawsuits claiming that their employers should pay for this boot-up and shut-down time.

Software called Presto could provide an alternative to waiting. Demonstrated this week at Demo, a tech conference held in Palm Desert, CA, it joins a handful of products that have emerged recently in an effort to get people working on their computers faster. These products, offered by companies including Intel, HP, and DeviceVM, generally allow a person to boot up in less than 30 seconds, and in some cases less than 10.

When a computer running Presto is first switched on, the user is given the option to load the Windows operating system or Presto. If she chooses Presto, then the system launches within a few seconds, providing a task bar and icons for several applications, including a Web browser, an instant-messaging application, and the Internet phone system Skype. If the user wants to switch to Windows, she needs to log out of Presto and start up the machine as usual.

Interesting, ne c’est pas? So where does it come from? And how does it work? Well, it’s produced by a software company called Xandros, which is located in New York, and it’s based on a slimmed-down version of Linux. (The Xandros distro is what powered the original ASUS EeePC, and it’s neat, minimalist and efficient.)

Presto will be out in beta on March 16 and as a product on April 13 for $19.95. Cheaper than buying a Mac. Could it be a cheap way for my Wintellized colleagues to curb their impatience?

UPDATE: Martin Barry emailed to point out that this stuff is built into some ASUS motherboards now. It’s called ExpressGate and powered by Splashtop from the DeviceVM company mentioned in the NYT piece: