April 15, 2002

The future of Xandros: Installation is nice, more features expected

- By Dan Berkes -
Michael Bego would like you to know that he has not left the helm of Xandros, contrary to some gossip that's been going around. He would also like you to know that a little rumor about half the engineering staff laid off is just that -- a rumor. But most of all, the Xandros president would like you to know more about the new desktop-focused Linux distribution he's been working on.
Rumor control isn't any company's favorite way to appear in the press. Unfortunately, it seems that some customers or competitors feel compelled to make things up when there's a lack of real news to spread around. Since its January beta test announcement, Xandros has barely uttered a peep to the world outside its Ottawa, Ontario, headquarters.

"We're a little busy at the moment," says Bego, explaining the lack of communication with the outside world.

About the layoffs, Bego explains: "We did have five interns that left us at the end of their semester, but that's out of about 42 employees total. In all the time we've given out internships, there's only been one person to turn us down. As far as regular employees go, not one has left us, ever. We have a great team here, and everyone is excited about the products they've created."

The first such product the company plans on releasing is called Xandros Desktop 1.0. Built upon the foundation of Linux technology that Xandros corporate parent Linux Global Partners licensed from Corel, Xandros Desktop will be one of the user-friendliest Linux distributions ever released, Bego claims.

The public seems to be ready for a kinder, gentler Linux. "When we announced the beta test in January, we had over 2,000 applications for 150 beta test slots," he says.

Looking at the beta

Bego stresses that the first beta version isn't very exciting from a layperson (read: reporter's) view, and he's certainly right. The installer maintains the same ease of use that the Corel distribution used to make its name, although with some improved hardware support.

I mean this in the most exciting way possible: The Xandros Desktop installation is boring. I hope my fellow Linux users will understand that I say this with excitement, not despair. Having suffered through one too many needlessly exciting or annoying Linux installations, boring is a good thing. It means stability and dependability.

The hardware support was particularly impressive, figuring out the identity of all the off-brand equipment on my test box on the very first try. Up until that moment, the only other operating system that was able to pull that off was Windows. If the installer is as reliable at detecting name brand hardware as it was with my bargain basement system, then Linux users will have a good option for hardware detection, which was once a Linux pipe dream.

As for the rest of the Xandros Desktop beta, the only thing that can really be said about it is that it's Linux. Based on Debian, it's stable, reliable, and all those other buzzwords used to describe a Linux distribution. That similarity to other Linux flavors happened by design: "Our first and primary goal was to nail down the installer," Bego says.

Expanded beta expected this month

Having done that, Bego expects his company will issue a new beta version to a wider audience at the end of April. That's the version of Xandros Desktop that will include a wider range of the "fun" features the company is hoping will attract a new crowd to use Linux.

One of the new goodies promised is a tight integration of software and libraries enabling Xandros Desktop to run Windows programs directly from the KDE or GNOME desktop environments, Bego says. While that will certainly include bits and pieces from the Open Source WINE project, an as yet-to-be-named vendor will also be on hand to offer additional support for a wider range of Windows applications.

Bego is quick to allay any fears the Linux community might have about Xandros Desktop turning into a toy or novelty distribution with a limited newbie audience. "We've made it easy for the non-technical users, but it will cater just as equally to advanced Linux users."

The major question with Xandros right now is when its distribution will hit 1.0 status and store shelves. Original company estimates called for early May, then late May. The most recent mass mailing from Xandros promises mid-June. Time will tell if that release date is accurate or just another one of those rumors going around.


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