Linuxgruven > Software > Archived Bits > Xandros 2.0 Deluxe

Xandros 2.0 Deluxe


Note: My deb packages are apt-getable, more info available here.

I have screenshots of my Xandros desktop available here.

This is a brief review of Xandros 2.0. I ordered the Deluxe download edition on Friday, December 19 2003 and have been using it at work as my main desktop system since then. I started off on the wrong foot - the installation ISO I downloaded was bad. I tried it on four PCs but all would fail on startup. This is worth mentioning only because Xandros really ought to have posted MD5sums on the download page. I had to poke around the Xandros forums to figure out what was going on.

Xandros began life as Corel Linux. I was working for Corel when they released Corel Linux. It was the brightest time in the company's history. The feeling there was electric, Corel Linux was going to take on Microsoft. It seemed that everyone in the company was behind this. Overnight, it was dropped. The promising distribution was spun off, Xandros was formed.

To be honest, I'm glad it worked out this way. I'll admit it, I was nervous. I thought Xandros 1.0 would never see the light of day. Xandros spent what seemed like an eternity working on 1.0. When it was released, it looked very interesting, but seemed too dated to be of interest. XandrOS 2.0, however, proves that their planning and solid base has paid off. This is a very nice Linux distribution. While most reviews seem to indicate that it is for new users or Windows converts only, I'd beg to differ. Where XandrOS distinguishes itself from the competition is that it not only offers a good new user experience, it also allows for enough flexibility to be useful to long-time Linux users.

The Test Systems

My initial test system is a NEC Versa LX. This is a PII 333Mhz laptop with 192MB of RAM. It has a 20GB HD and an ATI Rage Pro LT video card. I am also using two PCMCIA cards: a D-Link 650 (802.11b Orinoco-based wireless card) and a generic 10/100 NIC. I have also tested the system with an Apple USB keyboard, a USB Logitech trackball, a USB floppy drive and my Epson 880 USB printer. So far, all devices work correctly.

The main system, my work desktop machine, is a P4c 2.8GHz machine with the Intel 865 chipset, and nVidia MX400 video card, a RTL-8139C NIC, a Firewire card and a Creative Labs sound card. The machine also has a 120GB HD, a new 40GB HD and a 12GB HD in it. As you will see later, this surprisingly gave me quite a bit of trouble.

Installation

To be honest, I expected the installation to be perfect. It turns out I was wrong. As I mentioned, my system had three hard drives. Initially it had two: a 120GB with Debian/Libranet Linux on it, and a 12GB HD with Windows 2003 Server which I would run under VMWare 4. After several false starts, it seemed easiest to put Xandros on it's own 40GB drive. The system installed fine, but Xandros would get confused by the 120GB drive on startup. All I would see was a black screen, if I hit CTRL-C it would skip by whatever was tripping it up, and would eventually finish booting up. Sometimes it would actually lock up when starting X, it was the strangest thing.

My temporary/permanent work around was to physically remove the 120GB drive and place it in a Firewire enclosure I had. At the same time, I disabled Hyperthreading in the BIOS. Things began working as expected. I have since enabled Hyperthreading and things seem fine, so I can only guess that the 120GB drive with Linux previously installed is what confused Xandros. This is a hack, and one which I have not been able to entirely fix. I had previously installed several different Linux distros, none had this problem.

Another ongoing niggle is the 12GB Windows drive. As I mentioned, this was originally for use in VMWare. Unfortunately, Xandros insists on mounting the drive on bootup and then refuses to unmount it, rendering it unusable in VMWare. I e-mailed Xandros support and was told that the only solution was to disable the autogeneration of the /etc/fstab. This isn't really acceptable, as I use this feature routinely. So, for the time being I am going without the Windows 2003 Server.

Key Features and Performance

At it's core, Xandros consists of Linux 2.4.22, KDE 3.1.4, OpenOffice 1.1, Mozilla 1.4 and Evolution 1.4. Xandros is based on Debian Sarge (what is currently the testing branch.) They have taken a snapshot of Sarge and are maintaining a very complete list of well tested software for it.

Xandros is quite fast. On the same hardware, my unscientific tests show that it generally runs faster than SuSE or Red Hat, but slower than Mepis or pure Debian. This lag is quite noticeable on the low-end NEC test machine, but Xandros seems very fast on the P4 I use at work,

Xandros sets itself apart with the little things: Network and display settings are easily set in the KDE Control Center. Xandros has added a version of fast user switching (which simply starts another X session.) This wasn't difficult for them to implement, we all know how they did it, but it is very convenient for end users. Xandros has also made a wise move in adopting KDE's Plastick theme. This is a vast improvement over KDE's usual theme and makes Xandros look quite professional.

Xandros Networks also puts a very nice face on apt. Unlike Lindows, you can add your own repositories and extend it's usefulness.

These features are all part of what sets Xandros apart from other distributions. It isn't that any one feature is overly worthwhile, it's that combined they offer a very consistent, mature work environment.

Codeweaver Integration

One of the defining features of Xandros 2.0 Deluxe is it's ability to run Microsoft Office and Quicktime. This is accomplished through the integration of Codeweaver's Crossover Office and Plugin. These products alone cost $70USD. Given that Xandros itself is $89, this is an affordable way to get Crossover and test out an excellent Linux distribution.

The integration of Codeweaver's Crossover products is very useful for people who work in a mixed environment. I have used Crossover extensively in the last two months. I have installed Office 2000, QuickBooks, Internet Explorer 6.0, PuTTY and WinSCP3. All installed without a hitch, and have been working very well. Office has been very stable and is still frustratingly faster than OpenOffice.org. Internet Explorer is still less than stellar, but it is useful for testing purposes. As I had only ever used CrossOver Office 1.0 before this, I'm not sure if the deep integration is simply CXOffice 2.0, or if further integration has been done by Xandros, either way, installing and using Windows apps is seamless, and is a great boon to me in my job as a sysadmin.

One thing that boggles me about other reviews is that many reviewers look at the Deluxe product, complain that it is too expensive and go on to say that they didn't really need the Codeweaver products. To me, this is ludicrous. The only substantial difference between Xandros 2.0 Standard and Deluxe is the inclusion of the Crossover products in the latter. If you need or want these features, the extra $50 is a great price, if you don't, you should save the $50 and not complain about the price.

As a part of my job, I support people running Windows. I support people using MS Office. I had purchased CXOffice 1.0 previously, getting 2.0 with XandrOS was cheaper than upgrading and was well worth the extra money that I paid. If this hadn't been the case, the Standard edition, available for $40, would have been perfect.

Support for Other Commercial Software

Xandros's Corel heritage means that getting it to run the now aging Word Perfect 8.1 for Linux is fairly straightforward. I had to dig up some old libraries from Debian Woody as well as a few debs from my old Corel Linux CDs, but for people with old copies of Corel Linux kicking around, Xandros is a good way to breathe a little extra life into your older software. Having said this, it seems that Xandros 2.0 has finally broken compatibility with Corel's WINE-based WPO2K and Corel Draw. This doesn't come as much of a surprise, these programs were quite fragile when they were new in 2000.

VMWare 4.0 installed and ran very well on Xandros. I followed the how-to posted on the Xandros forums, it worked perfectly. Xandros also has a deal with Opera and Netraverse Win4Lin, both available through Xandros Networks. The Netraverse demo was an unexpected bonus. If I hadn't already purchased VMWare, I likely would have gone with Netraverse just for the integration and ease of installation.

What's Missing (and why it's not a problem)

As a long time Linux user, I found Xandros to be missing a few applications that I now consider absolutely essential. I don't mean programs missing from the base install but available through their "unsupported" repository, I mean programs that just aren't available in Xandros.

What I missed was:

  • KOffice 1.3
  • Gimp 1.3
  • Mozilla Firebird... er, Firefox
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Dia
  • Gnumeric
  • MPlayer
  • Gringotts
Fortunately, because it so closely mirrors Debian, adding them was not very difficult. While it is possible to add Sid (Debian unstable) to your apt sources, I didn't want to worry about stability problems that often occur when mixing Testing and Sid. Instead, I added Sid as a deb-src entry to my sources list, and then downloaded the source and compiled the applications as debian packages. This has worked every time for me. I've since done the same for Kile, Umbrello and several other applications. I've also created a small repository of my own so that others can use this software without having to bother recompiling it.
Note: My deb packages are apt-getable, more info available here.

Support

So far, my experiences with Xandros as a company have been somewhat dissappointing. I have e-mailed them several times asking about volume licensing, with little word back from them. I understand that they are busy, but I likely would have purchased several more copies of the Standard Edition already had they gotten back to me. I've mailed their tech support a few times as well. In every case, I've received excellent, if not speedy, replies.

Xandros' e-mail support may be less than stellar, but their community-driven forum makes up for this with a large group of helpful and knowledgeable individuals. I have found that the forum replaces the need for both a mailing list and knowledge base. Xandros employees do monitor the forum, but most of the content comes from the users.

Xandros seems to want to do the right thing business-wise. A key feature of Xandros 1.x was the ability for users to easily join Windows Domains. That this feature was removed from 2.0 was rather poorly advertised. As a result, Xandros has promised users who miss this feature a free upgrade to the 2.0 Business Edition when it ships.

The main reason that I began reviewing Xandros was because of the support changes with Red Hat Linux. Xandros assured me that they would release security patches for at least the next two years. As it is based on Debian, this will be easy for them to do. As soon as Sarge becomes Debian Stable, the Debian developers will supply patches for them. In the mean time, they have been good about releasing patches so far.

One comforting thing about using a product that is based on Debian is that it is a fairly low-risk choice. Even if Xandros was to go out of business tomorrow, the Debian project would live on. Simply changing your Apt sources list would allow you to track Debian Stable, thus providing an upgradeable, patched system.

The Xandros File Manager

The Xandros File Manager is another feature of Xandros that reviewers seem to spend a lot of their time on. And indeed, it is a very good file manager. In fact, it's almost as good as Konqueror! Actually, it looks and behaves like a strange combination of Windows Explorer and Konqueror. One thing the Xandros File Manager does very well is CD burning. You can blank CDs, make data disks, make audio CDs or copy another CD. All of this is handled elegantly without muss or fuss. While it's not as feature-rich as K3B, it's so convenient that I haven't needed to install anything else.

Windows and Unix network browsing is also brilliantly integrated into the Xandros File Manager. Sharing files or printers is as simple as right-clicking on them and selecting "Sharing" which gives you the option to either share for Windows (SMB) or Unix (NFS.)

This doesn't mean that the file manager is perfect. For one thing, it's slower than Konqueror. For another, it has no tab support and doesn't include ssh support. This is something that I used in Konqueror every day. Thankfully, Konqueror is still installed. Unfortunately, the fish kio is less stable in Xandros's version of KDE than it is in any of the other distributions that I have used.

Conclusions

I realize that I have focused heavily on some of the shortcomings that I have found with Xandros. Don't want you to take this the wrong way, I'm holding Xandros to a very high standard. I think that Xandros is one of the best desktop Linux distributions available. I've also recently investigated Mepis, Lindows 4.5 and Fedora Core 1 and have found Xandros to be quite a bit nicer to use than the alternatives. I'm sticking with Xandros and will hopefully be recommending it at work. (If they ever get back to me about licensing.)

To me, the best part of Xandros is that it offers a complete, well tested, consistent easy-to-use system. Because of this, it is often compared to the host of new user-centric distributions such as Lindows and Lycoris. Xandros can compete head-to-head with them on the ease-of-use front, but while other distros offer easy SMB browsing and a flashy interface, Xandros manages to do this without sacrificing the underlying flexibility of Debian.