Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

On the bench: Xandros Professional 4.1

A few years ago there were two noticeable distributions in the western realm that wanted to cater to W2L migrators: Xandros and Lindows, later Linspire. Both were commercial version based on Debian, both had there own commercial frontend as a package manager (Xandros Networks and CnR). Linspire released Freespire in 2006 and -shortly after that- made access to CnR free. This leaves Xandros as one of the few commercial desktop distributions. Fortunately, we are able to test Xandros Professional 4.1 for free in a 30-day trial. As distribution that explicitly tries to easy and promote W2L migration it is interesting to see how this release contributes to that goal. And, specific for Xandros, is it worth the money?

Installation

The installation routine is the almost ubiquitous six step process. You can either choose the express or custom install route as far as package selection is concerned. I chose the express route to see what results that would bring. The next 14 minutes Xandros was busy installing it’s 1.4 Gb footprint with a slide show that already revealed that under normal circumstance buyers of Professional or Premium would have an extra applications CD. On that CD would have been applications like Adobe Reader, OpenOffice.org and TheGIMP. That made me wonder what applications were installed by default?

First Impressions

As it turned out the default install is seriously low on applications for day to day use. Firefox is there, as well as Kopete, Evolution and KMail. But no office applications whatsoever. Not even KOffice which would have been expected on the KDE desktop. I could find the CrossOver Office demo. That’s nice if I wanted to install Word or Excel, but it also means that after the trial I have to shell out some more cash ($25 for a premium member).

Let’s take a little step back. The KDE first run wizard is a bit enhanced by Xandros. First, when you choose to have the desktop behave like Windows the whole desktop will look like a Windows95 desktop. Not really an improvement, but maybe the XP desktop is too copyrighted to include that. Another is extra is the add printer wizard, both for a local or a networked printer. Unfortunately Xandros did not recognize our networked printer, but it is not the only distribution that has that problem (or it could be my network setup 😉 ).

Digging deeper

Xandros has really made an effort to cater to the needs and desires of W2L migrators. Three building blocks are available to ease the migration: Xandros File Manager, Xandros Networks and Xandros Security Suite. The Xandros Security Suite (XSS) looks almost exactly like the Windows Security Center including the warning shield and layout. XSS is an interface to the antivirus package, the firewall, intrusion detection and the update server (Xandros Networks). On the downside, it looks like the antivirus package is a 30-day trial as well after which you have to subscribe (at least that is what it says in Xandros Networks). I don’t know about you, but I hate these kind of things. I have seen too many Windows boxes that came with Norton pre-installed. Nice, since you are protected from day 1 but after x days it is either pay up or remove the software. I do hope that Xandros Professional includes the subscription.

The Xandros File Manager looks just like your regular Windows XP Explorer. It completely hides the Linux File Hierarchy System and allows for easy access to network shares. This might not be to the liking of the Linux purists, but I do believe that this is the way a file manager should look like for W2L migrators.

Xandros Networks is the online frontend to the Xandros repositories and it contains a mixture of free and non-free applications. Where the default desktop is barren Xandros Networks should be your easy access to rectify that. It does, kind of, in a limited way. Under Office Suite I could find OpenOffice.org along with only three language packs. TheGIMP was there, but no KOffice. KMyMoney was only available for Premium subscribers. Same thing for Scribus. GNUCash wasn’t even in the Xandros repositories.

Fortunately it is easy to extend the range of packages when you go to Edit -> Set application sources and tick the box for Debian Unsupported. Also go to Settings -> Expert View and then you have a wide access to the Debian repositories (main, non-free and contrib). However, at that point Xandros Networks becomes the graphical frontend for apt-get and not really a good one compared to Synaptic. Only if you know what you are doing and know which packages you would like to install Xandros Networks will be of help. But when you know what you are doing, would you actually buy this distribution?

First conclusions

Xandros Professional 4.1 is a great looking distribution with three major contributions to ease W2L migration (Xandros Networks, Xandros File Manager and Xandros Security Suite). The inclusion of Paragon NTFS for Linux 5.0 Personal Edition shows that it wants to play nice on the same box in a multiboot environment. I did not have the second applications CD so I could not test that one. However, the default install is extremely bare. Of course, there is only so much you can cram into one ISO, but other distributions like Ubuntu are able to include GIMP and OpenOffice on one ISO along with basic security packages.

Xandros Home Edition is priced at $39,99 and the Home Premium Edition at $79,99. The Professional Edition is going to cost $20,– above that. Is it worth the money? Mind you, this is still way, way cheaper than a similar Windows setup. I believe that 2007 will see a major push for Linux on the desktop. Between competition of Freespire and Ubuntu (free distributions) on the home user market and from Novell’s implementation of SUSE Linux (commercial distribution) on the business market Xandros is finding itself in a tight spot. There are better free and commercial distributions out there and I sincerely doubt whether this 4.1 release can take away market share from either of those.

Xandros Professional 4.1 screenshots can be found here.

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10 thoughts on “On the bench: Xandros Professional 4.1

  1. I agree with you on there being a major push for linux although I’m not sure which version will be the most popular when the dust settles. I have gone and purchased Xandros Professional 4.1 version as I had purchased a previous Business Edition 3.0 and I liked it. I should say I liked it better than Suse as I purchased Suse 8.2 and I still have it laying around somewhere as I didn’t like it. I’m not much of a linux wizard so many distros like Redhat, Mandrake and especially Slackware really make me feel apprehensive but I think Slackware would be my next choice as it takes you back to basics and forces you to become more Linux savvy. Xandros meanwhile will be my Linux of choice and being a premium member allows me to download a lot of software free including Sun Office, Codeweaver, drivers, games, etcetera.

  2. Jmaes Ashford on said:

    I to think there will be a lot more interest in Linux, in 2007, but I think it will be to installable live distro’s, like PCLinuxOS, Mepis Ubuntu/Kubuntu, that people will turn, as these allow you to check that your hardware works , before you install, they also come with Open Office the Gimp, and most of the other popular applications that people need/want.

  3. Howard Pearlman on said:

    You forgot to mention that hardware compatability is a strong suite for this distro. It finds my BG 2200 intel card on my sony vgn-fs840/w laptop (pentium M) AND……….on that machine (with the intel graphics card, it allows for enabling of 3D Graphics. (This is the Professional Distro).

    Also on my old emachines, it recognized my wireless G belkin desktop card F5D7000 out of the box. No NDIS wrapper manipulation required (couldn’t tell you if it is using a linux driver or if the NDIS wrapper automatically configured it). Application is ideal for business enviorment as desktops can be encrypted easily (a big plus) and hibernate and suspend work fine on the laptop (no Fn button support though – but I’ve never found a linux app that has this out of the box). Overall it has the polish and refinement I would expect from a professionally done product. One other thing, you can get around the xandros network package manager by using apt-get or downloading and using synaptic to get all the apps you were saying are missing.

  4. Chris Chapman on said:

    A year ago I purchased Xandros Premium Desktop 3 for about $60. I was a newb then, and I really liked Xandros Networks, the ease of creating and browsing network shares with Windows, and the speed in which it installed. As I have come to learn the Linux way of life, I have realized that there is no reason to ever have to pay for a distro or its extras. I commend Xandros for what they are doing. I don’t think there is a better W2L distro out there. But as a person gets use to the Linux environment, people will move on. Today I am a PCLinux junky, and I don’t ever think I will go another direction.

  5. Dale MacDougall on said:

    The comments by Chris above pretty much mirror my experience so far. Bought Xandros 3.0 almost 2 years ago after much research looking for an easy way to move from windows to linux.

    After having gained some experience, I started trying new distros and currently have 6 distros on my machine (not Xandros) as well as xp.

    I agree that Xandros is a good first step and for those who want a safe and stable system. If I were running a home or small business, Xandros would be a great choice.

    But for now I’ll stick with pclinuxos as my main os and keep the others on to play with. Because it doesn’t bother me (much) to reinstall distros, I like to push the envelope a little bit and Xandros, because of it’s aim for stability, is so far from the edge it can’t be seen.

  6. Xandros is great. Good hardware detection, a professional layout (unlike Linspire), and stability. Negative points: (1) Unnecessary ‘screaming’ security centre (solution: simply do not install it); (2) If you don’t want to work with the Xandros File Manager, then it is hard (if not impossible) to make Konqueror work the way it is designed to; (3) Bizarre treatment of external hard disks: they show up as ‘zip drives under /var/autofs/ and it is impossible to have more then one open at the same time with the Xandros file manager. Lastly, the Xandros File Manager has much less options for working with (real) zip files. Konqueror is much easier when you have to work with zip files.

    Other distributions are much worse though:
    – Suse: sell-out to MicroSatan
    – Freespire: is fine when you are 6 years old
    – Mandrake: even if you shell out $100 those French guys REFUSE to provide any support – also crap hardware detection
    – etc.

  7. zeddock on said:

    Looks like I get the first post of the year!

    Happy 2007 folks.

    I am running a trial ox Xandros 4.1 to assess whether some of my users at NASA will be able to switch to it when Vista hits.

    So far, I think that Xandros is looking pretty good. It is still buggy in the wireless configurations and I have had some issues with main-stay Dell laptops when docked and using external monitors.

    The support has been pretty good and I love the fact that VMware allows the user’s backed-up XP OS to be restored into a virtual machine on Xandros.

    The price is right. Multimedia seems to work good enough and network drive mapping and Active Directory domains play well.

    Printers I have installed work OK so far.

    Familiarity is important to workstation users whom have found how to do certain tasks over and over again. They do not want to be thrown into a new setting!

    Of all of the things I miss on this Linux OS, EverNote is the one app that I have depended upon on the MS side. Number 2 is a close second and that is MindJet’s Mind Manager.

    Skype works but it is not being developed and in its current state does not allow video.

    Keep going Xandros. Ubuntu is enticing but just not stable in its MS-Windows-like behavior. That said, If I had time to mess around with an OS I probably would use Unbuntu some more.

    zeddock zeddock ‘put in an AT’ gmail.com

  8. Noyou Cant on said:

    I have copy of Xandros 4 which was given to me free.
    It is a very good distro but i would never pay for it when you can get better for free.
    I use PCLinuxOS 2007 and i consider it the best linux distro available today. This is evidenced by the fact that it has rocketed up tp #3 on the one
    month Distrowatch hit list.

  9. Right. But why pay Xandros for that. You can get more for free from PCLinuxOS. Visit hxxp://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com

  10. I am sorry, but I really don’t agree with that. Xandros gives you easy access to Debian repositories and there is no way PCLinuxOS can beat that. At the same time Xandros did tailor it’s distribution completely to the Windows user, even going as far as using C:, D: etc instead of the common designations under Linux.

    Please, feel free to promote PCLinuxOS, but use the proper arguments for it. Otherwise you might misinform and then disappoint new users. I don’t think that is your intention.

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