January 5, 2006

My desktop OS: Xandros

Author: Jeff Park

About a year ago I installed Linux on my desktop at work. I am a database administrator for a PeopleSoft and Oracle shop and I spend a lot of my time remotely logged in to our servers. I decided to try Linux because I had become frustrated with Windows not being able to things like multiple desktops, forwarding the display of a remote server onto your box to run apps remotely, and connecting with SSH. Fortunately, my management is far more interested in having happy, productive employees than what operating system people use so they were willing to let me experiment. Today, with Xandros, I have a good solid desktop, and I don't worry about viruses, spyware, and adware.

I wanted an easy-to-use Linux distribution, something that "just works." I didn't want to spend my time tinkering or figuring out how to make my system work.

At work we have been migrating our Web servers and some of our other database servers to Red Hat, so that seemed a good first choice. However, Red Hat is expensive and, in my opinion (from a usability point of view), better suited as a server. I could have gone for the free and more updated Fedora Core but I didn't want something that was labeled "experimental."

My next thought was Ubuntu. You have to search pretty hard to find negative comments about Ubuntu. I loaded up Warty Warthog on a spare computer and played with it for a while. I liked the clean interface but was bothered by the things missing. I had to hand-edit my X.org config file to set the refresh rate (which wasn't properly detected), I could not get printing to work over our Active Directory network, and I had a difficult time setting up connections to our file server (also Active Directory). After a few days without the ability to print I decided to move on.

My next try was Xandros. Although not free, Xandros has a free (for non-commercial use) version which I downloaded. I was extremely impressed with the simple install routine and the ease of setting everything up. I set up mappings to our Active Directory file server in minutes with no problems, but the real selling point was that I set up printing in less than 10 minutes. I was hooked.

I didn't want to jump into anything without some thorough testing, so I took a couple of months before hitting up my boss for funds to purchase it. One by one, I moved my applications over. It wasn't hard since I was already using Opera for Web browsing and Thunderbird for email. My word processing and spreadsheet needs were pretty basic, so OpenOffice.org replaced Microsoft Office quite easily. I use a few Windows-only applications, but since I don't use them often, I just left them on a spare Windows box.

I decided to do my "conversion" cold turkey. I immediately went to Linux full-time and only used my Windows box when I absolutely had to. Xandros handled everything I threw at it. I love how you can install local standalone Debian and RPM packages as well as repository-based packages from Xandros Networks. I even came to love the Xandros File Manager (which I didn't like at first) for its power and versatility. It still amuses me that Windows takes three or four mouse clicks to unmount a flash drive and Xandros does it in one. The best part of all is that it just worked. I wasn't spending time fiddling with config files or fighting with OS issues. I just did my job and was happy.

After two or three months of using Xandros, I went to my boss and told him that I had been using Linux for the past few months and explained why I felt it was a better OS for me. I asked for funds to purchase Xandros Deluxe version 3 (which had been released while I was still doing my evaluation). The funds were approved, and within a few days, I had a shiny new copy of Xandros Linux.

The migration from the Xandros 2 installation that I had to version 3 was painless. I just backed up all my files and moved them over to the new computer (I upgraded my computer at the same time). Apart from installing some programs, that was about it. The look and feel was the same. The big changes were in the underlying architecture (moving from the 2.4 to the 2.6 kernel, upgrading KDE, etc.). The most noticeable change was the inclusion of Crossover Office (which I use only to test Web pages in Internet Explorer). After just a couple of days I was done tinkering and back to work.

Of course I had some minor issues. Setting the default Web browser to Opera involved some Internet searching and command line configuration. Printing gave me grief every now and then (which turned out to be an Opera issue) but I got that solved. In order to install the Oracle client, I had to trick the installer into thinking that Xandros was actually Red Hat. The only recurring problem came from Samba. I set up my network shares by mounting them off of my home directory, but every now and then (maybe once a month) I would lose my connections and the file manager would freeze for about five minutes trying to access the shares. To fix this I had to wait for the file manager to time out, manually unmount the shares, and remount them. Apart from that, Xandros was solid as a rock and so easy to use that I rarely thought about what OS I was using at all.

I've been using Xandros for over a year now and no longer consider it a grand experiment; it's just my desktop. Some say that Linux is not ready for the desktop and, for them, it may not be. However, for me, it's not only ready but it's the perfect OS for my job.

What's your desktop OS of choice? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we don't already have a story on your favorite OS in hand.)


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