Xandros Desktop OS 3 Deluxe Edition

By Jim Lynch  |  Print this article Print

Review: The latest version of Xandros ships with some terrific features, including VPN support, a firewall wizard, DVD burning, and encrypted home folders. The new features add up to a great distro.

The Sum of the Parts

We frequently get the same question from our readers in the ExtremeTech forum: I want to get rid of Windows, so which Linux distribution should I try? Now we have a definite answer: Get Xandros. With the release of version 3, the Xandros folks have finally come up with a full-blown replacement for Windows on the desktop. New stuff in this release includes a VPN wizard, a firewall wizard, encrypted home folders, DVD burning, and a number of other goodies.

That's a lot of new features, and some of them answer criticisms we've had of a variety of Linux distros. Can a desktop distro really be a viable replacement for Windows? To find out, we installed it on a couple of PCs--a desktop and a laptop.

Before we move on to Xandros, here are the specs for our two test systems:

Desktop System Laptop System
Asus A7N8X-E Motherboard Compag 3080
nVidia nForce2 Ultra chipset SiS 650 Chipset
AMD Athlon XP 3000 2.4GHz Pentium 4
MSI FX 5900XT 64MB SiS integrated
160GB WD Hard Disk 40GB 2.5"

If you've ever installed Windows, you can install Xandros. It's really that simple. The Xandros installation routine is pretty much painless, and we had no problems with ours at all. Rather than going with the express routine, we opted to choose the custom routine so we could pick the installation partitions we wanted to use for Xandros.

Both of our test systems also had Windows XP installed in a separate partition, and Xandros had no problem co-existing peacefully with the other operating system. Our installation process took about 20 minutes or so altogether, after which we booted into the Xandros desktop.

The Xandros Desktop
After installation, we logged in and booted to our Xandros Desktop. The Xandros desktop is clean and well organized. When you first boot, there's not much clutter on the desktop (no worries though, we know how to clutter up a desktop quickly and efficiently by leaving files everywhere and never removing them until our desktop is completely covered). When the desktop loaded, we saw a trash can, Home icon, Quick start guide, a web browser link, and a link for Xandros networks.

To begin using Xandros, we simply clicked the Launch button and the the Applications choice in the menu. If you've used Windows' "Start" button, you'll feel right at home with Xandros' "Launch" button. It's pretty much the same thing. We can't help but wonder why everybody who creates operating systems doesn't just call that button "Start." Can Microsoft have trademarked the word start? We somehow doubt it.

The application menus in Xandros are well organized and easy to navigate. Clicking the Launch button gives you access to your applications as well as the Xandros Control Center, File Manager, and Xandros Networks--where you update and maintain your system's software.

The Xandros Control Center is a slightly customized version of the KDE Control Center. If you've ever used the generic KDE version, you'll feel right at home. If you need to change your display, network, desktop, or other settings, the control center is the place to do it. You can also search the control center via keywords.

When you first load the control center, you'll see the following sections listed:

  • Display
  • File Manager
  • General Settings
  • Hardware Information
  • Network
  • Peripheral Devices
  • Power Management
  • Sound & Multimedia
  • System Administration

Just click the section you want to view, and a list of subsections opens up. To change certain settings, you will need to know the administrator (root) password you created during the installation process. When you encounter something that requires the administrator password, you'll see the "Administrator" password button at the bottom of the menu. Click that, type in the password and you can then make your changes.

In addition to changing settings, you can also view your system's hardware information in the control center. The control center is very similar to the control panel in Windows.

The Xandros File Manager
The Xandros File Manager is a very important part of Xandros. It's where you'll do most of your file management as well as some of your networking tasks. The XFM interface is easy to navigate. Your system's disk drives, folders, CD/DVD drives and networks are listed in the left pane. Just click on whatever you're interested in and it will load in the right pane of the XFM.

Here's what was listed in our XFM:

  • My Home
  • Desktop
  • My Documents
  • Printers
  • Windows Network
  • NFS Network
  • C:
  • D:
  • DVD Writer
  • DVD-RW
  • Floppy

When you install Xandros, it will automatically give you read access to your Windows partitions. This makes it very easy to refer back to a file you were using Windows. The XFM also makes backing up files to CD or DVD very easy. To backup our files we just clicked the DVD Writer icon, and we were given options to Create a Music CD, Create a Data Disc, Copy a Disc, Erase a Rewritable Disc, or View Existing Projects. You can also drag and drop into a CD folder, as you can in Windows.

Becoming familiar with the XFM takes just a couple of minutes and you'll find yourself returning to it frequently when you need to manage your files, access your Windows partitions, or connect to your Windows box. It's a very easy-to-use tool, so be sure to check it out right after you install Xandros on your computer.

The deluxe version of Xandros comes some basic software on the install disc and more software on the applications disc. Here's a taste of what you can expect:

  • CodeWeavers CrossOver Office 4.1
  • Kernel 2.6.9
  • Xandros-enhanced KDE 3.3
  • The "Sarge" version of Debian GNU/Linux
  • Journaling file system (ReiserFS)
  • Ext3 file support
  • USB 2.0 support
  • FireWire support
  • Wireless 802.11b Networking Support
  • X.org 6.7 + commercial drivers
  • Java 2 Runtime Environment 1.42
  • Mozilla 1.7
  • Firefox 1.0
  • Macromedia Flash 7
  • OpenOffice.org 1.1
  • glibc 2.3.2
  • gcc 3.3.4

More software can be had via the Xandros Networks tool. To access Xandros Networks, we just clicked the Launch button and then selected it from the menu list. Using Xandros Networks, you can update your system with the latest patches as well as adding more software. You can also install software via RPM or DEB files by clicking the File drop-down menu at the top of Xandros Networks.

Xandros Networks makes it very easy to manage your system's software. You can easily see what software is available and what you already have installed. And you can easily remove software you don't want anymore. You can also purchase commercial software such as StarOffice 7 in the Shop section of Xandros Networks.

Over the last year or so we have been the lone voice in the wilderness crying out for Linux vendors to include a built-in VPN wizard into their products. Being able to connect to a VPN is very basic functionality and is certainly a must-have feature for business users who have to connect to their corporate networks.

We were very, very pleased to discover that not only has Xandros included a VPN wizard with 3.0, they've done it in a way that makes it functionally as simple and easy as the one in Windows XP. We had absolutely no problem connecting to our own corporate network using Xandros, and, once connected, we were able to fire up our browser and begin using the Ziff-Davis content management system to do our usual tasks.

The folks at Xandros deserve special praise for being the first Linux distribution to accomplish this. It's long overdue and kudos to the Xandros developers for delivering this to their customers. Along with praise for Xandros, we also want to deliver a message to Linux vendors that don't offer VPN functionality–get it done or lose customers to Xandros. It's really that simple at this point; excuses just aren't going to cut it anymore. Xandros has raised the bar, and all Linux users–especially business users–will benefit from this functionality.

We generally prefer to run Linux applications whenever possible; however, we recognize that some folks might need to run some Windows applications. If you're one of them then, you'll love the fact that the deluxe version of Xandros ships with Codeweavers CrossOver Office 4.1. CrossOver lets you run a range of different Windows applications.

Here's a list of some of what you can use via CrossOver:

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0
  • Adobe FrameMaker 7.1
  • Adobe Photoshop 6
  • Adobe Photoshop 7
  • Cortona VRML Client
  • DCOM95
  • Dreamweaver MX
  • ebrary Reader
  • eFax Messenger 2
  • Flash MX
  • Flash Player
  • Internet Explorer 6.0
  • IPIX Netscape Plugin Viewer
  • iTunes
  • Lotus Notes 6 and 6.5.1
  • MDL Chime
  • Microsoft Excel Viewer 97/2000
  • Microsoft Office 97
  • Microsoft Office 2000
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer 97/2000
  • Microsoft Project 2000 or 2002
  • Microsoft Visio
  • Microsoft Word Viewer 97/2000
  • Oracle JInitiator 1.1
  • Quick View Plus
  • Quickbooks 2000
  • Quicken
  • Quicktime 6.5
  • Shockwave Player 8.5
  • Superscape Viscape Universal
  • Trillian
  • VP3 for QuickTime 5
  • Windows Media Player 6.4

You can also install other Windows applications but you will need to check their compatibility. For a full list of applications and their compatibility ratings, visit the CodeWeavers site. If Windows applications are your thing, be sure to check out what CrossOver Office has to offer.

As good as this release of Xandros is, it does have a few problems. We disagree with the choice of Mozilla as the default browser. At this point Firefox is a better bet than Mozilla and should take its place in the next release of Xandros. We'd also like to see GAIM as the default instant messenger instead of Kopete. Kopete is okay, but GAIM is better.

It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that we'd like to see a Gnome version of the Xandros desktop. KDE is fine but some of us do prefer Gnome to it and it would be great if we could use it instead of KDE. We're not going to harp too much on this but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it at all.

We were also surprised that the GIMP image editor wasn't installed as part of the standard desktop. That seems a bit odd to us since it's the premier image editor in Linux. Like OpenOffice.org, it's pretty much a must-have on every system so we found it odd that it was on the applications CD rather than included by default.

We also had problems getting the wireless card in our laptop to work (a Netgear WG511). Although Xandros had the Prism driver that our card requires, we were not able to get the card working. No matter what we did, the card remained inactive and we were not able to get our laptop online via the wireless card (though we were able to connect it via ethernet without a problem).

The card works fine with Ubuntu and Windows XP, so it's not a problem with the card. We contacted the Xandros folks via email and they suggested that it might be an IRQ problem. Unfortunately we ran out of time to investigate it and thus were not able to fix the problem. We were very disappointed about this since we'd planned to replace Ubuntu with Xandros on our laptop (since we'd be able to use the VPN connector in Xandros). We'll be putting Ubuntu back on our laptop, however, until we get a version of Xandros that will work out of the box with our laptop's wireless card.

We're very pleased with this version of Xandros. There's quite a bit of value here for anyone and we feel very comfortable recommending it to anyone who wants to move off of Windows and onto Linux. It's stable, easy to use, and comes with a good range of applications. Laptop wireless problem aside, in terms of ease of use, we think that Xandros has set a new standard for Linux distributions.

We can't wait to see what version 4 of Xandros will look like...

Product: Xandros Desktop OS 3 Deluxe Edition
Company: www.xandros.com
Pros Includes VPN & Firewall wizards; good file manager; easy to install and use; comes with CrossOver Office 4.1 so it can run some Windows applications.
Cons: Could use more software included as part of the default installation; Firefox should be the default browser; no Gnome; problems with our laptop's wireless card.
Summary: Excellent alternative to Windows; one of the best Linux distributions around and one of the easiest to use; highly recommended for users new to Linux.
Price: Deluxe Edition $89.95; Standard Edition $49.95; Open Circulation Edition is free.
Jim manages the PC Magazine and ExtremeTech forums, and is responsible for building community in the forums on both sites. He started managing PC Mag's forum on ZiffNet on CompuServe many years ago. He then transferred the staff and expertise to the Web. He left ZDNet when it moved to San Francisco and came back to Ziff after the split from ZDNet, right before ExtremeTech launched. You can get more background at his personal site: www.jimlynch.com/profile.htm.

His favorite movies include Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Three Musketeers (1973 version), Dune (Sci Fi Channel version), and gobs of others. He can't live without his iPAQ Pocket PC—,he uses it at the gym and everywhere else—,and his DVD collection features more than 200 films. His favorite game is Tribes (PC), which is more than three years old but he still plays it all the time.

Jim likes interacting with the folks in the forum and the content. 'I Love both of 'em,' says Lynch. 'It's what makes the job fun and interesting.'

You're welcome to visit Jim's site for more information about him.


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