I have previously said that MEPIS is just too close to the razor's edge for me. For a hi-tech user who is interested in trying out the latest and greatest, you could not ask for better than MEPIS. But I am chicken when it comes to my data. I cherish stability and predictability. I am willing to pay the price in boredom if I must for the sake of not needing to do anything to my computer except turn it on or off. So this leaves me with a two dog race between Libranet and Xandros on my primary system.
Libranet is the more polished and mature of the two. Libranet gives me the impression of being more experienced and less prone to letting things slip through the cracks. But they are not nearly as user-friendly as Xandros. Libranet lacks many of the nifty little bells and whistles that make life so much simpler for us lazy and ignorant types.
Libranet offers significantly better tech support, which I credit to the fact that Libranet has learned through experience. I expect Libranet to continue growing and remain a stable distro for several years to come. I may be wrong, but I estimate Libranet will be here for a while. Libranet "feels" faster. It has more of a snap to it. Applications in Libranet load faster and close faster and seem less prone to long pauses.
Xandros offers a smoother user experience. Everything flows easily and it is a soothing environment to use. Xandros is the first Linux distro that I have ever seen which actually does offer a user experience equal to Windows. But the Xandros tech support is less than stellar and their business judgement worries me. Of course, Xandros has just recently switched CEOs and that makes a difference. I have endured that sort of thing myself. Swapping the top dog at a company sends shock waves reverberating all the way up and down the food chain. No matter how gently management tries to handle it, a certain amount of uncertainty and distraction is inevitable. So it is quite possible that Xandros will improve quickly in the near future. But for right now they are showing signs (like dropping part of their networking capability without telling the user base, and leaving tech support unmanned over a holiday following their new release, and neglecting to mention a few details about installing from a CD-ROM in their instructions) of being behind the curve. They have missed a few things. Nothing major, nothing that can't be fixed. But will they fix it?
The Xandros forums are an interesting insight into that question. The Xandros veteran users are not as ferocious as their counterparts in MEPIS, not as technically lofty as the Libranet crew, and not as fired up with anti-Microsoft fever as the Lindows bunch. But the Xandros forums display a user base that is intelligent, polite, helpful and stubbornly loyal to their favorite company. You can learn a lot about the character of a company by looking at the people who have faith in them. Like I said about Lindows, a company that can inspire this kind of support must be doing something right.
But what would be best for my SOHO needs? That is what this whole adventure was about after all. Which of these two will answer my needs and suit my workstyle and equipment best? Assume that I become a permanent customer and purchase upgrades of my preferred distro on an regular basis. What exactly am I buying when I pick one of these?
I have two computers, my wife has one, my son and daughter have one each. All but mine are strictly Windows boxes. That is a factor to be considered. Do I need to spend a lot of concern on compatibility? But I am not using a LAN. And I don't run Windows programs in Linux much, if any at all. Is access to a large database of proprietary software important? Not really. I have Debian. That pretty much covers my needs. I seldom change a working configuration except to upgrade a specific package anyway.
Libranet vs. Xandros
- Technical control & detailed options vs. Supreme user friendliness,
- GPL + proprietary user tweaks vs. GPL + proprietary user tweaks,
- 100% compatible with standard Debian vs. Maybe, maybe not compatible with standard Debian. (But in fairness, you can break a Debian system even if you are running "pure" Debian nowadays. Things are getting tangled enough to make me nervous.)
The Xandros EULA reads like standard proprietary boilerplate. I spent several years reading and writing legalese like this, and the way I interpret it Xandros is granting me a revokable license to use their proprietary software unless and until Xandros revokes that license at their option, without right of appeal, in which case I have to give it back. I blinked and had to re-read the thing a few times to be sure I wasn't reading the EULA for Windows. Conceivably, Xandros would have the legal right to demand that I return the boxed set I used for this review if they don't like my writing. I seriously doubt that they would go that far, but they possess the legal authority to do that, and prosecute me if I refuse to comply. They own this software, and no mistake about it. I use it at their sufferance.
By the way, I am not a lawyer, I just complain about them whenever I get the chance.
The EULA for Libranet is a bit more casual. Libranet's EULA is more along the lines of "Hey, this stuff is GPL, except for what isn't. Look at the individual packages to find out which is which. Don't blame us if it blows up your system. Do whatever you want with this stuff, just don't get us in trouble over it."
A slight difference in flavor and attitude is evident.
Xandros has spent no telling how much money, and a lot of man hours of work, in producing one of the smoothest, prettiest and most pleasant operating systems I have ever seen. Xandros 2.0 Deluxe is beautiful to behold, pleasant to use and easy to configure. Xandros has every legal and (to me) moral right to keep the non-GPL portions of their code proprietary. I have not the slightest objection in principle to their approach. Even if their trial version for download is supposed to be time bombed so that it quits working after 30 days or something, Xandros has every right to do that.
Libranet offers a free copy of their previous version for download from their website with no strings attached. When you send Libranet money for their latest edition, what you are paying for is to compensate them for the time and trouble of smoothing off the rough edges from Debian, putting together a nice installer, and inserting a useful interface that makes many tasks simpler and easier and compiling all of it.
Xandros seems to be struggling uphill a bit when it comes to tech support. Libranet tech support is mature and efficient and promptly effective. Both companies have excellent and deeply loyal user forums.
So why did I leave Microsoft anyway?
Well, I left Microsoft because it crashed early and often, because it picked up virii more readily than a classroom full of 6 year olds, because it bogged down my system to an incredible degree. But mostly I left Microsoft because I got tired of paying Danegeld. Extortion. Protection Money. I got tired of being locked into obligatory upgrades and proprietary file formats and activation codes that force a user to beg a faceless stranger for permission to use his own hardware. I got tired of asking permission from Microsoft to do whatever I want to do with the computer I paid for. I got tired of Microsoft's casual assumption that owning the license to the operating system gave them a license to tell me what I could, or could not, do with my hardware. I got tired of the uncertainty that comes from not knowing what hoop Microsoft was going to force me to jump through next. I got tired of doing things the Microsoft way simply because no other way existed. Now another way does exist. Where do I go from here?
I don't need to run Windows programs anymore. If I do find a need in the future, I have several (legal) copies of Windows in various incarnations here and I know how to setup a dual boot system. I don't need compatibility with a Windows network because I don't usually bother with a network. I don't really *need* all the user friendly enhancements that Xandros includes, but I certainly do enjoy them.
Libranet will do everything I need from an operating system. I can upgrade it indefinitely from free repositories. Xandros offers software that has been pre-configured to fit the operating system, and they are making noises about a subscription service in the future. Libranet is working on the same thing in a free Debian repository, and stating that it will always remain free.
Xandros retains ownership of their operating system and in their EULA specifically reserves the right to revoke the license at their option. Libranet says, "Take it, use it and enjoy". Xandros is still getting their legs under them in a cutthroat market. Libranet reports in their latest email newsletter that 2003 set new records for them, that their sales have tripled and they will show a profit this year. Xandros is designed for the non-tech Windows convert. Libranet gives me the tools to customize anything I want, any way I want it. Xandros is beautiful. Libranet is powerful. Xandros is smooth as old whiskey. Libranet is lightning fast.
"Just shut up and pick one Smith."
Boil it all down and the question is still subjective, just like it always has been. Subjectively, I like Libranet's attitude better. I like their general approach better. I like their customer responsiveness better. I also like the extra speed that Libranet gives my system. I like knowing that no one is ever going to audit my computer for illegal software with Libranet. And after I have tasted what it means to have full control over my own system, and full freedom to do whatever I want with my own computer, I can't give them up. I am going with Libranet for my primary computer.
Primary system - Libranet
Secondary system - Lindows