August 11, 2005

Review: Xandros Desktop 3.0 Business Edition

Author: Jem Matzan

Xandros Business Edition provides a desktop environment that looks and feels much like a better-looking Windows 2000. Unlike Windows, Xandros is easy to install and maintain, and it doesn't come with all of the security flaws and virus vulnerabilities that Windows has. As an added bonus, Xandros Business Edition includes the full edition of CrossOver Office 4.2 (other editions of Xandros include only a 30-day trial). That means that if there is a major Windows software package that you can't live without, chances are you will be able to install and run it on Xandros through CrossOver. In short, Xandros is now ready to eliminate Windows from corporate desktop computers.

Xandros Business Edition comes on a single CD, with extra programs available on a second bonus CD. If you want to add other software beyond that, the Xandros Networks framework is there for you. Not only does it show you what you have installed and what you can install, it also collects and installs software updates. And, because it's based on Debian, you can use Debian's APT to update software as well.

New and improved

Last summer I reviewed Xandros Business Edition 2.5 and found that it generally wasn't ready to compete with existing, established corporate desktops. It suffered from an old kernel, malfunctioning sound drivers, a high pricetag, the inability to perform unattended or remote installations, and a bug in the desktop environment that annoyed me. In the current version, Xandros has remedied all of these negative points.

The kernel has been upgraded from 2.4.24 to 2.6.11. Not only does this add better hardware support, but it also solves the ALSA sound driver problem found in Business Edition 2.5.

The only bug I found was one that plagues all current editions of Xandros. Specifically, the applet that tells you when software updates are available does not work properly until you manually go into the Xandros Networks program and download updates. After you do that, the applet correctly informs you when there are updates for your software. This minor bug aside, I'd say that Xandros Business Edition 3.0 works perfectly and, considering the fact that you get CrossOver Office 4.2 and StarOffice 7, it's worth its $130 pricetag.

In effect, Xandros has been brought up to date with the Debian Sarge release, so you can generally expect that software included with Xandros will be commensurate with what you can get in the Sarge repositories. This means KDE 3.3, Firefox 1.04, Thunderbird 1.0, and the Java Runtime Environment version 1.42_05.

Xandros history
Xandros took over the product once known as Corel Linux. Its original product was a desktop operating system that tried to fit itself to all computers and purposes. In recent years the company divided its product line into two distinct offerings, home desktop products and business desktop products, with six disparate Xandros flavors to choose from. All of them except Business Edition and Desktop Management Server are targeted at home users.

Xandros Business Edition also includes wireless networking tools that I found to be indispensable for notebook computers. Other business desktop products ignore wireless support or provide minimal tools for finding wireless access points. Xandros filled that vacancy by providing NdisWrapper for wireless LAN chips that are not natively supported in the Linux kernel, thereby making it easy to install, set up, and configure them. The only way it could possibly be easier is if the Windows NDIS drivers were automatically included with the distribution, so that users would not have to retrieve them from a driver disc or from a manufacturer's Web site.

Cosmetically you'll have a hard time distinguishing between the current and previous versions, which is a good idea. The less change there is in the graphical interface between versions, the less users will be confused and upset.

In the previous review I said that Xandros could not be rolled out en masse. Since that time, the company released Xandros Desktop Management Server, which allows administrators to remotely administer Xandros desktop machines, including performing remote unattended installations.

Click to enlarge

Conclusions

Xandros is a bit of a latecomer to the GNU/Linux business desktop market, and that's a tough position to be in when there are so many other choices. This little Linux company is competing with the established products from software and services companies such as Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Mandriva.

Yet Xandros Business Edition 3.0 is quick and easy to install, easy to customize, and although its software selection is limited, its arsenal is powerful. You get more heavy-hitting business desktop software with Xandros than you do with SUSE Desktop, Red Hat Desktop, Sun Java Desktop System, and even Mandriva Corporate Desktop.

Best of all, Xandros Business Edition 3.0 works well and with a variety of hardware. The tools it has for hardware detection, automounting, and wireless networking are invaluable for desktop users who do not want to deal with some of GNU/Linux's usual desktop hassles.

Although the $130 price tag may seem expensive at first blush, it's competitive with Microsoft Windows, and Xandros Business Edition 3.0 is an excellent replacement for Windows in a business desktop setting -- not to mention a good alternative to other GNU/Linux desktops already in production.

Purpose Desktop operating system
Manufacturer Xandros, Inc.
Architectures x86 only
License Governed by a moderately restrictive license, although the majority of the software is under the GNU General Public License
Market Corporate and small business desktops
Price (retail) $130
Previous version Xandros Desktop OS Version 2.5 Business Edition
Product Web site Click here
Click Here!