Throughout the course of this series, hardware issues have been the main sticking point for me on just about every distro. I haven't found one single distro that worked properly out of the box on both of my systems. For the issue of installation I can't pick out a clear winner. All of them could be made to work. Neutral grades all around.
Lindows 4.0 and 4.5 both worked flawlessly on my secondary system, but neither of them were able to cope with the Radeon video on my primary system without major pain.
Libranet 2.8.1 worked well on my primary system, but I had to perform the original install with the VESA option and then configure XF86Config-4 by hand. Libranet also installed a version of Grub that tried to eat my secondary system's MBR. This upset me.
MEPIS had automount issues with my secondary system, and also had issues with the video card on my primary system. Both were fixable, but not without pain.
Xandros was no exception to the parade. Just to make things interesting, Xandros had preliminary issues right off the bat with both of my systems. Joy, joy, happy, happy.
On my primary system I plugged in the installation CD and rebooted. The installation program started to load and then....WHAM. The black screen of ATI death. Just like Lindows. I buried my face in my hands and groaned. While mourning and weeping I remembered seeing (very briefly before the screen went black) a notice to hold down the shift key for extra options. So I tried it.
(Be it noted that this option is specifically mentioned in the user manual. I had just been so conditioned by years of inadequate documentation that I forgot to look. Once it hit me I checked the user manual for installation options and there it was. My own fault for not reading the directions carefully enough.)
Xandros promptly popped up a menu list of just about every conceivable installation option I could imagine. Including a VESA option, which I used. Once I was installed and rebooted, I expected to reconfigure XFree by hand again. But oddly enough when I right clicked the desktop and selected properties, I was informed that Xandros had detected both my Radeon primary card and the onboard i810 card. It had also quietly configured itself for dual monitors without bothering to mention it to me. Nice.
The only two flies in the ointment were -
1) Xandros detected my Radeon as having twice as much video RAM as it actually possesses, and
2) I still had to configure XF86Config-4 by hand to enable 3D acceleration for my Radeon. I do not believe that there is a distro in existence that will setup 3D acceleration out of the box for my Radeon.
Overall I am going to give Xandros a neutral evaluation on this part. It was inconvenient needing to pick an atypical option. But overall it was not a serious problem. At least I was not forced to crawl under the desk again.
I am confused about why Xandros, since it was obviously capable of detecting my hardware configuration in the final setup, did not detect it immediately and give me some options on whether or not I even wanted a dual monitor setup (I didn't). This is the kind of thing I meant when I mentioned rushing something out the door in a hurry.
On the secondary system the issue was more insidious, and far more puzzling. Installation proceeded without incident and apparently all was well. But once I had the secondary system installed I could no longer access my CD-ROM drive. This was the same automount problem that I had encountered in MEPIS. Since it wasn't distro specific, I can only conclude that something in the latest Debian Sarge package has issues with this particular drive.
To confirm that this was not a hardware issue I re-installed both Lindows and Knoppix on my secondary system, one at a time. Both of them were able to work with the CD-ROM with no problem at all. I then reinstalled Xandros and the same problem reappeared.
Okey-dokey. I needed to check out the Xandros tech support system anyway, So I went to their website. I read their FAQ list, online knowledge base, ran a search of the forums, etc. Nothing there seemed to apply to my situation. So I sent off an email to Xandros tech support. This was the day after Christmas so I expected a delay. I was surprised to receive a response within 5 minutes.
It was a very courteous form letter politely explaining to me that Xandros tech support was only available Monday through Friday during business hours, Eastern Standard Time. The email went on to explain that due to overwhelming demand for tech support, there would be delays and that they would try very hard to get back to me within 5 business days if they could. Then the email went on to suggest checking the forums and the online knowledge base.
I kept remembering how Warren, the manager of MEPIS, had spent hours late at night exchanging emails with me to try fixing this same problem. The comparison was not flattering to Xandros.
I went to the forums and posted my problem under installation issues. I received several replies from other users almost immediately. None of the replies knew what to do, but they were generous about offering suggestions about things that *might* work. That is about as good as you could hope for in a user forum. Xandros did NOT respond to my forum post. This is not acceptable. I could get this much technical support from one of the free non-commercial distros.
Once again - THE. USERS. ARE. NOT. RESPONSIBLE. FOR. PROVIDING. TECH. SUPPORT. FOR. THE. SOFTWARE. THEY. BOUGHT.
This should be branded into the side of every coffee mug in every software company in the world. Most especially, this should be branded, tatooed and beaten into every tech support department head of every Linux distro. The user is not responsible for providing technical support to their fellow users. The users are not the ones selling the software. The users are not the ones making a profit, or trying to make a profit, on the software.
I am going to follow up on this for a moment, please bear with me. I have received a lot of feedback about this series, both positive and negative. The positive feedback has been very flattering, and I thank everyone that took the time to write. But the negative feedback is even more important. No matter what you are doing, no one can get better at it unless they have people who are willing to call their attention to points that need improvement.
Yet I have been forced to shake my head at the religious zealotry of some of these firebrands. I have been attacked for daring to offer even the mildest criticism of someone's personal flavor of Linux. Please note that I never received any negative feedback from the companies themselves, not even for my criticism. The flames have been coming from some of the users. I am guessing that these users are either very young, or very inexperienced in the realities of free market economics.
Basic Free Market 101. Winner takes all, losers go under. Simple as that. I read a lot of double talk issuing from the propaganda machines of some Linux companies about how they are not competing against their fellow Linux distros, and their only focus is to bring greater acceptance of Linux to a wider audience, yada yada yada. I don't believe a word of it. Every Linux company is in direct competition between every other Linux company AS-WELL-AS Microsoft.
This is the real world difference between commercial efforts and the academic projects, open source volunteer efforts and all the other undertakings that make the open source universe so wonderful. The free projects, the volunteer projects, can honestly say that they are not in competition with other projects of the same general type. They can trade code freely and even collaborate with similar projects openly. Because there is no money issues at stake.
But when you step over the line into the world of commerce, everything changes. This is how you feed your family. This is how you pay for your car. This is how you keep the utility companies happy and pay for your hardware upgrades. This is the source of your beer money. This is serious. Your competition, wherever and whoever it is, has one overriding compulsion. They are out to skin you alive and throw whatever is left to the dogs for a chew toy. When your competition smiles and offers you an olive branch, any sensible business person is going to check the smile for fangs and inspect the olive branch for poisoned thorns.
Xandros is in direct competition with Lindows, who is in direct competition with Libranet, who is in direct competition with SUSE, who is in direct competition with Mandrake, etc. The fact that they are all trying to skin Microsoft out of some market share does not detract from the fact that all of the *commercial* Linux distros are competing directly with each other for the same limited user base. Which means that every little detail counts.
These commercial Linux distros are new little companies trying to take down, or at least weaken, the established leadership of one of the most powerful megacorps in the world. They do not have any room for mistakes. Nor can they get away with sloppiness. Nor can they take the loyalty of their current customers for granted. Every detail matters.