Unlike many of the popular Linux distributions, Xandros is not offered in a free form for some time following the release. Eventually, there will be an "Open Circulation Edition," but for now, there are two editions of Xandros, the Standard Edition, at $49.95, and the Deluxe Edition at $89.95. The Deluxe Edition, which was used for this review, contains Codeweavers' CrossOver Office 4.1, which is an enhanced version of WINE, which can run Windows applications. Xandros is based on Corel Linux, which includes the closed source, heavily modified Xandros File Manager (XFM), which is the bread and butter of this distribution. With integrated CD and now DVD burning, XFM is one of the sleekest file managers out there.
The Xandros adventure starts with a fairly straightforward installation routine. I won't go into too much detail, but the install is graphical and easy enough to figure out, even for someone who hasn't installed Linux before. When I chose to manually select a partition for installation, Xandros correctly guessed I wanted to use my ReiserFS Userlinux partition, and the existing SWAP space. Package selection is, as I've noticed with many "desktop friendly" distributions, fairly pointless. The recommended default installation is just a few megabytes less than their "everything" selection, which includes Apache and Netware connectivity. Xandros will write the boot loader to the partition you install it on automatically, you can choose to add it to the master boot record as well, as it will detect your Windows partitions in a dual boot scenario. My one complaint here is that, as per usual, it recognizes my XP installation as "Windows XP," and then adds an option to boot to my non-bootable NTFS data store as well. I wish the installer would check if the partition is bootable before adding an entry to the boot menu.
Xandros boots noticeably slower than I expected, slower than I remember version 2 booting and certainly much slower than my Windows XP installation. It's worth the wait in my opinion, as after login you're presented with a gorgeous modified KDE desktop. At the heart of Xandros lies Xandros Networks, the update and software installation tool for Xandros OS. You'll want to update immediately after install. Since I installed Xandros the day it was released, there were no updates. My first act was to check for network connectivity. I had unplugged my ethernet cable to check if it would detect my wireless card, as one of the touted features of Xandros is "Extended Wireless Support." Unfortunately, no go - there was no connectivity, and no light on the card. Now, my card is a PCMCIA Dell Truemobile card, and it should work under Linux. A "modprobe orinoco_cs" showed the module installed, but not functional. I had to play around a little while, and eventually got the card to work. As you can see in the screenshots, this was disagnosed by Eugenia as a bug in the Xandros hotplug scripts. Over the course of the next few days, I'd have a number of problems with my wireless connection - after an extended period of inactivity, the wireless would stop working. In addition, I never got it to work while the ethernet card was marked active.
The wireless card was the largest problem I had with Xandros. By far, the rest of the experience was fantastic. Once connected, I decided to try one of Xandros' other new claims - their PPTP VPN. I can sum this up in a word: awesome. I don't know what's taken Linux so long to have a capable PPTP VPN, but it's an absolute MUST. Without it, Linux cannot be the primary OS on my home computer. I connected to my work VPN in a few seconds, and used the remote console application to login to my Windows domain controller at work simply and easily. SSH worked like a charm through my VPN connection as well. I say this not lightly - for me, this is the best feature I've seen added to a Linux distribution in the last two years. This is very significant, because it goes beyond "wow factor" and is really, honestly, something I require from a computer. A+ for Xandros here.
- "Xandros Desktop 3, part 1"
- "Xandros Desktop 3, part 2"