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?
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?
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 😉 ).
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?
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.