Xandros 2.0 is, in many ways, one of the easiest and most pleasant distros I have ever tried to use. In other ways, it is an unmitigated pain. The contrast keeps things interesting.
I received my box copy of Xandros 2.0 Deluxe on December 23. The whole saga of obtaining this copy was fraught with interest before it even got here. Originally, as many people already know, Xandros 2.0 was scheduled to be released on December 9. Then the due date was shifted to December 16. Then December 18. Then back to December 16. My copy was actually shipped out on December 17.
The issue of release dates and timing apply to many aspects of my experience with Xandros. From my personal experience, and from what I read on the Xandros forums, I have concluded that the Xandros team were *almost* done with this distro and did a last minute rush job on it to beat the Christmas deadline. There are some things in Xandros 2.0 that should have, and probably would have, been caught with a little more beta testing. But I am getting ahead of myself.
This is the soft underbelly of many a Linux distro. No matter what a distro can provide, no matter what you can do with it, no matter how many nifty features it has to offer, what good is it if no one but a programmer can figure out how to get the full benefit of the thing?
Xandros takes the prize in this category by the simple virtue of actually providing that old fashioned courtesy called a user manual. Astonishing really. Of course an ancient geezer like me can remember the good old days when user manuals were S.O.P. for software packages. No more. Now you generally have to embark on a research project, visit the public library, search the web, ask questions on the user forums, beg help from your local LUG, and go earn a degree in computer science before you are qualified to open a new file and actually do anything constructive. Anyone who is unable or unwilling to jump through these hoops is obviously a stupid newbie and inherently unfit to be trusted with a computer anyway.
There is a woeful truth that many distros seem unaware of. It can be challenging to access an online help system when your computer is a smoking ruin. Hard to believe, but there it is.
End User: "Hey Fred! My modem quit working, the keyboard is locked up and the monitor keeps flashing Budweiser off and on! What should I do?"
Sysadmin Fred: "Jump on the internet and check the Linux Documentation Proj......uh-oh. Well then, just go to the start menu and....oh dear."
A hard copy can be a blessing and a real help to a confused end user in need.
Speaking as a tech writer, I found the Xandros user manual a blissful thing to behold. Containing 318 pages jam packed with fluffy and superficial information. Plus about 32 pages of Index and ToC, for a grand total of approximately 350 pages. But it was a MANUAL. A real, honest to goodness, hold it in your hand, something to read in the bathroom manual. And it was immune to power failures.
The first part of the manual takes up some space giving a summary of Linux in general and Xandros in particular. This is perfectly appropriate when you consider the target customer base that Xandros is trying to hook. Most of the information is of the "click this, drag that" variety, which is also right in line with their intended user base. I do wish that Xandros had included some addition technical details, perhaps in an appendix or something. For example. the section on setting up a network describes how to input a static IP address, and then tells the reader to go get the IP information from their system administrator. Someone like the average home user who doesn't have a sysadmin to call is not helped by that piece of advice.
But overall I am very favorably impressed. This manual is actually readable and comprehensible by most non-tech users. Also, page 3 of the Xandros user manual had something interesting. There is a section entitled "We Want Your Documentation Feedback". The paragraph that follows invites anyone with comments or suggestions to submit them to email@example.com. In other words, they are working to continuously improve their documentation. I would dance with joy if I were not sitting down. Finally, somebody gets it.
To ice the cake, the start menu in Xandros has an entry under Application-Education-Guides. It is called the Linux Cookbook and is an excellent source of online information during those periods when your system is actually up and running. Most modern distros include a copy of the Linux Cookbook in their documentation packages, but I haven't seen any other distro give it a separate menu listing for itself. Very nice.
Lindows includes a twenty-something page high gloss pamphlet that adds up to more of a marketing brochure than a user reference. MEPIS included a simple two page typed set of installation instructions. My copy of Libranet was downloaded, so I can't say what they might include in the physical copy. All of the distros include extensive information on their web page.
Ratings for User Documentation, in descending order -
4) Libranet (?)