posted by N. Heron on Mon 25th Nov 2002 21:35 UTC
IconA new version of an existing distribution doesn't generate near the fanfare of a new distribution from a new company. Or a near new distribution from said new company. The first release from Xandros Inc., Xandros Desktop 1.0, is the descendent of the excellent Corel Linux (Corel 2.0?). Read more for a review, a mini-usability test and screenshots.

Xandros purchased the rights to Corel's Linux distribution and set up shop across town. Corel's Linux projects were impressive while they lasted. Corel managed not only to create a Linux version of WordPerfect Office and Corel Paint on top of their distro, but they also flung it onto store shelves far and wide.

Click for a larger version Xandros belongs to a specific sub-group of Linux distros; these aren't just trying to be approachable to Windows users, but to actually mimic it as closely as possible. As such Xandros blends a Windows "look and feel" with as much branding and Linux features as can be squeezed in. The result? Rather than a cold shower, it's lukewarm and much easier to get into.

A Windows user can expect an introduction to a multiuser OS and all sorts of great open source applications, as well as the ability to run a large number of Windows apps.

Most of the big commercial distros work reasonably well in the area of installation. The different distributions have taken different approaches to the process. Some load the configuration options on the front end. Xandros has only a few steps on the front end and has left other options either to default configuration and or for the user to set up after the installation.

Xandros, like Corel Linux, is based on Debian, unlike the offerings from big names like SuSE and Redhat. And aside from superb stability and awesome package management Debian is know for an arcane and confounding installation process. The Xandros installer conceals the complexities of the Debian installer in a simple and attractive GUI. Xandros offers users the choice of either an Express or Manual installation. The Express installation will take over a single disk on your system and install the Standard desktop bundle. For more experienced users, the Manual installation cedes control over the installation. I opted for the latter.

After accepting the license agreement, the user has about a half dozen steps. Among them are package bundle options. Xandros comes with three different bundles: Minimal, Standard and Complete. Having chose the Minimal install, I assigned Xandros a small partition, 2 gigs, and the Complete version would have fit, but I wanted to test run Xandros Networks.

You'll be prompted to build or assign your Xandros partition (either ext2 or ReiserFS), and can resize your existing FAT partitions. For such a nice installer, it's too bad that Xandros hasn't been able to develop a better partitioning tool interface. Other steps in the installation are the option to configure network settings, set up your printer, add user accounts and create a boot floppy.

Click for a larger version Linux users might be a little surprised that during boot up Xandros doesn't have kernel or init messages scrolling up the screen. Instead there are a couple of little messages ticking off the completion of their tasks (Checking root filesystem...OK, Checking all filesystems...OK). It's just one of the touches designed to bring Linux a little closer to the Windows experience, kindalike the little flare music as the desktop opens and closes.

The Xandros desktop itself is a customized KDE 2.2.2 (the Launch button has the Xandros logo) on XFree4.2. After the initial reboot and login the user will encounter the First Run Wizard. The Wizard guides the user through a few further simple setting options such as mouse button settings, regional settings and date and time, printer settings, and some system behaviour (such as Windows look alike options, among them the Default, KDE etc.). Not to mention electronic registration of your shiny new Xandros product.

Xandros has it's own desktop file system manager that's quick, configurable and more or less looks like Windows Explorer (more Windows 9X than XP). Xandros automatically mounts all other partitions under the folder Other Filesystems (from the command line they're parked under /disks.). Some of the intricacies of Linux are still there. Click above /home and a Windows user might get confused by /root, /usr, /etc. The key to sorting it out is to remember that more or less the same names and look are present. Keep it in mind and no one should get terribly confused in normal user mode in the home directory.

Corel Linux uses the stopwatch feedback feature that Xandros has expanded on. In Windows it's an egg timer. This handy little feature lets you know that your application has in fact launched, something that may be unclear with an enormous app like OpenOffice. Xandros attaches near your cursor a miniature icon of the app you just clicked on. It will be annoying to some, probably many, but it is an effort to give feedback to the user.

Table of contents
  1. "Xandros Desktop Review, Part I"
  2. "Xandros Desktop Review, Part II"
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