As I blogged about last February, I often carry a second computer, an ASUS EEE PC 701 , so I can work while I wait for my Windows laptop to boot up. Some enterprising folks at Splashtop have taken this concept one step further and embedded a compact version of Linux with applications in the BIOS, so that within 30 seconds of pushing the power button on your computer you can be browsing the web, making a call using Skype or viewing photos or videos. But this requires buying a mchine with an enhanced BIOS to allow you to do this.
Dell has taken this one step further with something called Latitude On . Latitude On is a fully dedicated subsystem with its own low voltage processor, WiFi and WAN, operating system, and essential applications like email (Exchange and POP), view attachments, and internet. It is believed that the processor is ARM and Dell says the OS is an embedded Linux (not Splashtop). Dell laptop computers with Latitude On run Linux within seconds of pushing the dedicated Latitude On button. If you just use the ARM/Linux subsystem, Dell says you can expect days of battery life, not just hours which is what you can expect if you boot Intel/Windows. Of course if you need to do some serious work or play games, you can always boot Windows which will run using an Intel dual core processor.
Phoenix's HyperSpace is another alternative that boots Linux almost immediately allowing you to do email, browse the web, and altogether 80% of what you spend most of your time doing. You can download and install Hyperspace, because it is does not require a separate processor or a special BIOS like Latitude On or Splashtop. One of the nice things about Hyperspace is that on some types of hardware you can run Hyperspace and Windows in parallel. I tried to download and install it, but it turns out that the types of machine that it will run on are very restrictive. When I tried it there was a relatively short list of machines that it supported, and my Thinkpad X60 was not on the list.
Now there is another alternative called Presto from Xandros, that appears to run on any Windows machine. I downloaded Presto - it's about half a GB - and when decompressed requires several GBs. It installs fairly quickly, and when you reboot you find tthat you now have two alternatives, you can boot Windows or you can boot Presto. If you choose Presto, it comes up in about 30 seconds, and out of the box gives you a Firefox browser, Open Office, Skype, a PDF Reader, and a few other standard applications. You have access to an on-line CNR site where you can choose to install Evolution II, Thunderbird, or another email client. To me the most important feature of Presto is that you have access to all of your Windows data files, so you really can do serious work. The disadvantage is that it does not run in parallel, so if you need Windows, you have to boot it and you can't use Presto while Windows is booting, like you can with the other alternatives. Presto shuts down in 5 seconds, so you really can turn your machine on and off frequently, because you don't have the long boot up and shut down cycles of Windows.