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Want an honest-to-God great Linux desktop for your SMB but you don’t want to give up Windows? Boy, do I have a deal for you!

It’s Xandros Inc.‘s Xandros Desktop OS Business Edition 2.5. Built on top of the Linux 2.4.24 kernel, specifically the Debian 4.0 (Sarge) variation, it’s one solid operating system, and it’s great for Windows users.

Click here for more on the Xandros desktop.

Xandros works well for those who want their Windows in part because of its Windows-like appearance. To my eye, it works and feels more so like Windows than the other important business Linux desktops—Red Hat Desktop and SuSE Linux for those of you playing at your SOHO.

Under the surface, Xandros is running a cleaned-up KDE 3.1.4 interface, but Windows users won’t care. They just want something that looks and works like their old interface, and that’s pretty much what Xandros gives them.

It’s also just about the easiest Linux I know for people who don’t know Linux this side of Linspire (formerly Lindows). I can’t recommend Linspire for business use, though, because to me it still remains primarily a consumer distribution. Michael Robertson and the rest of the Linspire crew are working on it, but for now, I’d give my stay-at-home friends Linspire and the stay-at-work buddies Xandros.

One reason I do that is that Xandros comes ready to work with both NT PDC (Primary Domain Controller) domains and W2K and Server 2003 AD (Active Directory) networks. This isn’t just hype. I currently run Xandros on my main laptop and a secondary workstation on my hybrid Windows network, and I have no trouble working with NT, W2K and Server 2003 drive and printer resources. You’ll have endlessly more trouble trying to get XP Home working with either PDC or AD-style networks.

When you need to upgrade it—and these days every operating system needs constant patching—you’ll find Xandros Networks to be every bit as easy to use as Windows Update.

The full business office version of Xandros comes with StarOffice. But let’s get real; I’m talking about Windows users here. You want your copy of Microsoft Office—am I right or am I right?

Well, with Xandros, you can have Linux and run your Office applications—along with a host of other popular business applications—thanks to CrossOver Office. Again, I’m not just reading the marketing wallpaper. I run Office 2000 on my Xandros machines, and it runs extremely well.

I know what a lot of you are thinking. No, I don’t give up a ton of performance to run Windows applications. CrossOver doesn’t emulate Windows; it provides just enough of the API (application programming interface) hooks for Windows applications to run natively on Linux. The result is that even on my 1.8GHz and 2.4GHz systems with 256MB of RAM, the Windows applications run pretty much as fast as they ever did on the same hardware running XP.

But say you want more. Well, Xandros includes a free trial version of Win4Lin 5.0, NetTravere’s handy-dandy program that lets you run Windows 98SE or ME as a VM (virtual machine) in Linux. You’ll find that, together, Xandros and Win4Lin run almost all Windows applications.

Now, Xandros is not perfect. I’m still looking for a good Wi-Fi driver for it and my laptop. Moreover, I confess that to use the Google toolbar in IE (Internet Explorer), I need to use it inside my Win4Lin Windows ME VM instead of just running it in IE using CrossOver Office. Still, to use a Windows-like desktop where I don’t have to worry about the latest Microsoft security hole or Windows virus is pure pleasure.

Xandros also simply doesn’t have the kind of administrative and technical support behind it that both Red Hat and Novell can bring to their respective desktop distributions. For that reason, if you’re looking to an enterprise, Linux-based desktop, I still recommend looking to one of those leading Linux companies, or to Sun with its Java Desktop System. For smaller offices, though, Xandros should do just fine.

Of course, darn it, you can’t get Linux to run Windows games well, but you can’t have everything!

For business uses, though, well, let me put it to you this way. I’ve set Windows-using friends in front of Xandros, and after hours of use, they just thought it was an exotic version of Windows. It worked the way they thought Windows should work, and they were none the wiser, just a lot—and I mean a lot—safer. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late ’80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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