I received my copy of Xandros Desktop only two business days after ordering. I opened the box and popped the CD in. So much has been written about Xandros installation that I won't belabor it. Suffice it to say that it's easier and faster than Windows. Anyone with a modest amount of Windows experience can easily set up Xandros, even if they choose the custom install and the machine already has Windows installed. I've installed it five times already. It took me 26 minutes the first time, and 17 minutes the last time.
Xandros picked up and correctly configured all of my hardware, including my wheel-mouse. All except my sound card, that is. More about that later. Both of my Ethernet cards were installed and I was able to connect to the internet instantly. No Internet Connection Wizard directing me towards MSN.
So what's it like to run Xandros Desktop? It boots up very nicely, and after logging in, I got my first look at the KDE in years. Experienced Linux users already know that it's very Windows-like. But I'm writing this article for people like myself - Windows users who are sick of Microsoft and want something ----- else. The default desktop setting is 1024 X 768, which I changed by going into the Control Center. Right-clicking on the desktop and choosing properties gave me an error message and an invitation to report the bug, which I did. Xandros does have music when entering Xandros Desktop and shutting down, but no sounds that you can configure. You just have to go with the defaults.
I started looking around to find out what came with Xandros. Hmmm, let's see. Two browsers (Konqueror and Mozilla); 2 e-mail programs (K-mail and Mozilla Mail), OpenOffice, a bunch of games, most of the major instant-messaging programs, and various other utilities I don't completely understand yet. Drag-and-drop works just fine, even between Linux and FAT partitions. The games looked chintzy; the colors were relatively low-contrast. Their version of Solitaire is a perfect example. I tried the Xandros Networks, which is probably similar to Lindows' Click 'n Run. It has applications that you can select, and they download and install pretty quickly. I chose GnuCash, a money-management program similar to Microsoft Money, and Ximian Evolution, an e-mail client. Evolution looks a lot like Outlook, but it's not as sophisticated. It's O.K., but it needs work.
I installed Microsoft Office, and CrossOver Office picked up what I was doing right away. However, it would only let me install Word, Excel and IE 5.0. I knew it wouldn't install Access, but I thought it would install Power Point and Outlook, but no such luck. If you don't have MS Office, Xandros comes with OpenOffice, a suite of programs similar to MS Office. You can open, edit or create Word and Excel documents with it. I upgraded IE 5.0 to 5.5 with Windows Update and even installed the Google Toolbar, but it doesn't work in Xandros. For some reason, it won't let you place the cursor in the Google Toolbar to type anything.
A lot of the familiar keyboard shortcuts I like to use don't work in Xandros, either. For example, Windows + M or Windows + D doesn't minimize open windows. Alt + D doesn't highlight the address in Mozilla, although Control + Enter does add the http://www. and the .com. Alt + Tab does move between open windows. Since I'm tri-booting (I have Windows 98, Windows XP and Xandros Desktop all on the same machine), I often forget and start using shortcuts in Xandros.
Burning CD's was a disappointment as well. Xandros comes with a primitive CD-burning program called X-CD-Roast. It works - sort of - if you really know how to do it, but it's neither intuitive nor user-friendly. If they're looking to attract more Windows users, they'll need to upgrade that.
Most of my other problems were related to my own inexperience with Linux. I can download Linux programs from the internet, but I don't know how to unpack/unzip or install them, and I have no idea how to use WINE.
Xandros tech support seems to be first-rate. They were very attentive to my sound card problem. They not only promised to work on it immediately; they sent me an e-mail from time to time to reassure me that they hadn't forgotten me. And they did find a fix after a little more than two weeks. Having a good attitude about tech support is something that can set a company apart. They also have Xandros forums, a part of their web site moderated by members of their tech support team, where users can post questions regarding anything relating to Xandros. Other users can and often do offer help and suggestions as well.
Longtime Linux users are probably scoffing at this distribution, but it's not aimed at them. It's for Windows users looking to take their first srious step into Linux. Knoppix and DemoLinux are fine to play with, and I recommend them for anyone wanting to take a risk-free look at Linux. But Knoppix doesn't seem to run on older machines, and neither of them are useful for everyday computing.
Has Linux reached the point where it can replace Windows in the office or home? No, not yet. But this distribution shows that it's getting closer to being a reality.
So what do I think? Is it worth it? No easy answer here. At $99.00, Xandros is one of the more expensive distros out there. But that's still less than any legal copy of Windows, except maybe an upgrade CD. If you're a Windows user who's looking for a stable, easy-to-use introduction to Linux, I'd say "yes", this is worth it. Plus you can keep Windows and set up a dual-boot. If this describes you, I'd say "go for it!"
My summary: Installation is a breeze and most normal computing tasks are easy and fairly Windows-like. This distro is crying for a firewall, and as mentioned above, the CD-burning program is as basic as it gets. Overall, I give it an 8 out of 10. It's a winner.
About the author:
My name is Phil Hall and I live in central New York. I worked a help-desk for a major computer manufacturer for six months. I love/hate Windows, and I'm always willing to look at something that might be better.