December 30, 2004

Xandros Desktop OS 3 Deluxe Edition

Author: Joe Barr

I've been running the recently released Deluxe Edition of Xandros Desktop OS for the past week. Xandros 3 has proven to be all that I hoped for, and more. This release should prove a good fit for many, combining the ease of use and elegant good looks that Xandros brings to the table with the underlying power and stability of Debian.

The environment

Xandros Desktop OS 3 runs KDE 3.3 sitting atop the 2.6.9 kernel. Yes, that's right: the 2.6.9 release. Note: If you are a regular Debian user, you may not have heard, but version 2.0 of the Linux kernel was released in 1996. Really! I'm not teasing!

I installed Xandros on an IBM T40 Thinkpad with a 1.3GHz Pentium, 1024MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. Images are fed to the LCD screen through an ATI Radeon LW. Built-in connectivity includes an IBM 82801BD PRO/100 VE (MOB) Ethernet card and an Intel PRO/Wireless LAN 2100 3B Mini PCI adapter.

Prior to the Xandros install, the laptop had seen duty dual-booting SUSE 9.2 and Windows XP. My goal in the install was to replace the SUSE component while leaving Windows XP intact.

Installation

The Xandros 3.0 Deluxe installation was as slick and easy as any I've experienced. I inserted the Xandros CD, rebooted the Thinkpad, and in less than 20 minutes had a highly functional, Internet-connected, Xandros 3.0-powered laptop in front of me.

The installation procedure asked very few questions. Did I want to keep Windows on the system? Yes. Did I know that taking over the partition where SUSE had been been prior to Xandros would cause all my data to be erased? Yes. And did I want the Express installation or a Custom install? Express will be fine, thanks.

Then I sat and watched the Xandros ads that appear as the system is being installed. There wasn't anything else for me to do until it was time to enter the root password, machine name, user name, and user password; then remove the CD and reboot again.

By the way, those Xandros ads might bother some folk. Often they are pitching various rebranded open source projects as if they are Xandros creations, in a manner similar to what Linspire has done. Perhaps that is why the thought crossed my mind during the install that Xandros is going after the same market as Linspire: they both seem to focus primarily on new Linux users just migrating from Windows or Mac platforms.

Click to enlarge

Following my first boot of the new installation, a Setup wizard appeared. That's certainly nothing new, but one aspect of the setup was, or at least it was new to me. It had to do with theming the KDE GUI desktop. I could choose to accept the default theme, or choose one based on a particular OS or platform. That means the newly arrived emigrants from proprietary land might find Linux a little less intimidating than they otherwise might have. Or at least they might if they choose to theme their Xandros desktop that way.

Xandros detected the fact that I had a serial mouse connected to the docking station -- I prefer rolling the rodent to thumbing a track ball -- and it worked just fine. The track ball and its side-buttons were non-responsive while the mouse was connected, but once I removed it they were functional as well.

The built-in IBM Ethernet card worked just fine after the install. I wasn't asked a single question about it, it was just there. No surprise in that. Linux installs handle this type of thing routinely these days, unlike Windows, which sends you scampering off to find a driver from the hardware vendor. The built-in Intel wireless card was a pleasant surprise, however. It worked, too, without a single question having been asked -- the first time that it's worked on my Thinkpad out of the box with any Linux distro.

As a point of comparison, my install of SUSE Pro 9.2 on the same machine resulted in the wired NIC being detected and configured, but the wireless only being detected. In fact, subsequent attempts on my part to configure the wireless card manually resulted in nothing but frustration. Whether the problem is me or the hardware is moot. It's really nice when things just work.

SUSE 9.2 had problems with the video card, claiming that it couldn't find the X and Y values it needed to properly size the display. I had to go in and reset the resolution following its install. Not so with Xandros. Once again, it just worked, no questions asked.

Finishing the install

There is a complete installation ready for you when you finish the basic install, without having to access the second CD containing additional applications of the Deluxe Edition at all. The desktop -- click on the thumbnail for a larger view -- contains icons for Trash, Home, Quick Start Guide, Web Browser, and Xandros Networks.

It's a good practice to check for updates at the first opportunity following the installation of any operating system. I did just that by double-clicking on Xandros Networks icon.

In very short order, my local software database had been synced with the Xandros server, and I had also learned there were no waiting updates. I noted the ads for items available via the Xandros Network: CrossOver Office 4.1, StarOffice 7, and membership in Xandros Network to name a few. The CrossOver Office ad was wasted on me, since it's included in the Deluxe Edition.

More on page 2...Application choices

Every distribution seems to be making choices for you these days, and Xandros is no different. Here's what I found installed on my short-list of required applications:

  • IRC chat - a rebranded Kopete
  • Email - KMail
  • Browser - Mozilla
  • Text editor - KWrite
  • Word processor - OpenOffice.org
  • Spread sheet - OpenOffice.org
  • Image processing - KDE Paint
  • Digital Camera - Digicam

My personal choices would be to replace Kopete with X-Chat, KMail with Evolution, KWrite with GEdit, Paint with the GIMP, and add Gnumeric without removing the OOo spreadsheet. You never know when you might have to embed a spreadsheet in some dog-and-pony show for marketing.

Speaking of adding things, it's very easy to add software to the Xandros Desktop, even for items not included in the Xandros repository. Too easy, maybe -- more on that further down.

There is a complete list of all the applications available as part of Xandros 3 on the Xandros Web site.

Rather than recount that list here, I'll simply highlight some of the items set up in the various application menus following the installation. Accessories include various readers and viewers for fax, PDF, and other things. You'll also find an address book, text editor, and pop-up notes there.

Crossover Office gets its own menu, and there is one for Games as well. In the Graphics category, there is a paint program, Digicam, and Kooka for your scanner.

CrossOver Office is going to be a big selling point for this version of Xandros, and if you have indispensable Windows applications that are on the supported list (like Quicken, various Microsoft Office versions, and so on) it can provide you with an end to dual-booting to get them those apps.

I didn't have any of the supported applications lying around, but I did have Windows XP on the same computer. I told CrossOver Office to run Notepad for me and it did so without any qualms.

In the Internet menu, you'll find connection wizards, a firewall wizard and control program, as well as the IM, email, and browsing tools previously noted. There is also a voice-over-IP application and a Usenet newsreader.

All in all, the glass is more than half full. Yes, you can quibble about the choices being made for you, but you can't deny there is something in place for all the most common desktop tasks, and a whole lot more.

Installing your own applications

I searched for X-Chat in the Xandros Network repository, but found no joy.
All commercial distributions share this same quandary. They simply can't keep every program in their repository. So the utility of a specific distribution for you often hinges on two questions: how easy it is to add the software that you want or need, and what are the consequences of doing so. It turns out that expanding the universe of installable packages is a snap with the Xandros.

Before I learned there was an easier way, this is how I added X-Chat. I modified /etc/apt/sources.list to include the following line:


deb http://http.us.debian.org/debian stable main contrib non-free

Then (as root) I entered the following two commands at the command line:


apt-get update
apt-get install xchat

The first command installed the lists of software available at the repository being added to the /etc/apt/sources.list file. The second fetched X-Chat and all its prerequisites and installed them for me. The entire process took less than a minute.

Did I say there was an easier way? Yes, and there is. It can all be done from within Xandros Networks, without having to go to the command line to run apt-get manually. Open XN (Xandros Networks), then click on Edit -> Set Application Sources, then enable the Debian Unsupported site. Once that's done, the expanded universe of programs will be available to XN to find and install.

There is a downside to both approaches, however. Unsupported software, like the version of X-Chat I installed, won't be included in security updates provided on XN. It won't be fully integrated into the Xandros Desktop, either. The same holds true for any dependencies they might have. You could add just a couple of programs but end up with 10 or 20 outside the protective scope. The same is true, of course, of all commercial distributions.

Speaking of XN, it's very user-friendly. To test it, I installed TuxPaint (displayed on the XN splash screen along with the pay-for items). It required that 9 additional packages be installed. The only thing I needed to do was give it the administrator (a.k.a. root) password -- nothing else.

Conclusion

The one word that pops up in my mind most often when I think of my experience with Xandros 3.0 Deluxe is elegance. Power and polish in harmony. It won't be the "just right" distro for some, but for a whole lot of others it just might be the one that leads them from the Land of Oppressive Proprietary Software to the Land of Linux and Freedom.

The installation is the best I've seen. Xandros Desktop OS 3 gets high marks from me for correctly configuring the built-in wireless card and the display, both without any assistance whatsoever from me. Even the installation screens look as polished as any I've ever seen.

The default installation results in a complete and highly functional desktop box. My only complaints about Xandros have to do with their software selections and their rebranding of projects.

If you are happy with applications included in the Xandros repository, this is definitely a distribution you should consider. Yes, it's easy to go beyond that repository, but as you do you risk replacing larger and larger chunks of the Xandros OS with standard versions -- meaning without the Xandros touch of fit and polish -- of whatever prerequisites your additions may require.

Category:

  • Linux
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