Review: Xandros Desktop 4.0

Here is OSNews’ review of Xandros Desktop Home Edition Premium version 4.0 (a mouthfull). Xandros Systems was so kind as to provide OSNews with the top of the line version of their product, which includes, among other things, complete copies of Versora Progression Desktop, CrossOver Office, and various non-Free drivers and utilities. Read on for the complete review.

Xandros 4 comes with the following versions of common software packages:

  • Linux kernel 2.6.15;
  • 6.9;
  • KDE 3.4.2 ‘Xandros Enhanced’;
  • 2.0;
  • firefox 1.5;
  • Thunderbird 1.5.

    Other interesting applications you usually do not see on Linux distributions are the already mentioned Versora Progression Desktop and CrossOver Office; besides these, Xandros 4 comes with Skype (with 30 SkypeOut minutes), RealPlayer, iPod compatibility (using Amarok), Xandros AntiVirus protection, and much more. The distribution’s tagline is “The platform for your digital life”. Xandros comes in clean packaging, reminiscent of Apple software. It also comes with a 400-page manual.

    I installed Xandros 4 on a Dell Inspiron 6000, which has the following set of specifications:

  • Intel Pentium M 1.73Ghz;
  • 512 MB-RAM;
  • Ati Radeon x300 with 128MB of dedicated RAM;
  • DVD writer;
  • Broadcom 4318 wireless chip.

    Xandros 4 installed fine. Xandros 4’s installation routine is easy, and requires little to no knowledge of partitioning– provided you do not choose the ‘advanced’ method. It can automagically resize Windows partitions to make way for Xandros; I, however, chose the ‘advanced’ method since I needed to install Xandros over my Vista RC1 installation (my Broadcom 4318 chip does not work in Windows Vista, how’s that for irony?). The installation took about 25-30 minutes, which is acceptable; not outstanding, but acceptable.

    Hardware recognition is where Xandros 4 really shines. All my hardware was autodetected and configured, including my Ati video card and my Broadcom 43xx wireless chipset! This is the first Linux distribution to properly install and configure my BCM43xx chipset out of the box; other distributions needed either a lot of cli magic (Ubuntu), or needed only the Windows driver to be downloaded (Mandriva 2007 just needs the Windows driver, after which it installs automagically). I obviously know the limitations Free distributions run into concerning this matter, but still, this is a notable fact. Xandros also installs the Ati non-Free driver perfectly (version 8.25.18). Applications such as and Adobe Acrobat Reader are installed using the ‘Applications’ CD, which will be autodetected when you insert it into your CD-ROM drive. You will then be presented with the applications available on the CD, and tick those you wish to install.

    A few problems existed as well. One of those problems is omnipresent on all Linux distributions (that I know of) when installed on laptops: touchpad tapping. They all enable it by default, and this is probably a sane setting since most people would prefer it. The problems, however, lie in two facts: there is no easy way to turn this off, and the default setting is oversensitive (OpenSUSE is the worst at this, by the way). There are 3rd party GUI configuration utilities for this, but that is besides the point: this is a setting any operating system which calls itself modern should be able to change via a GUI, instead of diving into xorg.conf. Distribution people: fix this! It is getting tiresome to have to manually edit xorg.conf to set “MaxTapMove” to value ‘0’ (I Detest tapping).

    Another problem is that my Bluetooth USB dongle was not detected, even though it is supported by Linux and works fine when using other distributions. Xandors also failed to make my built-in SD card reader work; no distribution so far has ever configured that thing out of the box, and I’m too lazy to fix it myself. My digital camera, as was to be expected, worked fine from the get-go.

    After installation, the first thing you’ll notice is how… Outdated Xandros looks. Seriously. They selected Keramik as default window border, which in itself already feels as if it was made in the stone age. The various Xandros-specific artwork images also feel very outdated, making the entire distribution feel like a blast from the past. I’d be overdoing it if I’d say it reminded me of Mandrake 8.0, but it is not far from it. If I were testing the corporate version of their distribution, I could understand it a little better; however, this is their flagship home operating system, yet it looks like Windows ME beaten with the ugly stick. I think SLED 10, among others, has shown us by now that there is no reason for Linux distributions to look like wet cardboard. Of course you can configure KDE to look exactly how you want it, but I want good defaults. Defaults matter.

    However, what Xandros lacks in looks, it makes up with the Xandros File Manager. As said, it looks outdated, but it is such a breath of fresh air to have Windows networking taken care of, to have Windows partitions mounted and working with Windows drive designations, to have shared Windows printers detected, all out of the box. This is simply perfect for Windows converts (and for the rest of us too), and the likes of Ubuntu and OpenSUSE can learn a great deal from how the Xandros File Manager works. Xandros deserves a lot of praise for this.

    To apply updates and install new applications, Xandros comes with its own apt frontend named Xandros Networks. In order to apply for updates, you first need to register at Xandros’ website, after which you get an activation code; this code is then entered into Xandros Networks. Xandros Networks is in effect very similar to Linspire’s CNR. Xandros Networks is fairly limited, as the amount of applications is small. Of course Xandros is ‘just’ Debian underneath, so you can easily add more repositories; however, that is besides the point. I expected more applications on offer from the official, supported repositories.

    Xandros also comes with a Security Suite, modeled after the Windows variant. It includes access to firewal settings, the antivirus program, a system file protector, and the update applet. Using this Suite, you can configure all security-related setting. Better put– you must configure security related settings, as it will nag continiously if you do not. It can be turned off, of course, but again: defaults matter.

    I also tested Versora Progression Desktop. Versora is a utility which collects settings of various programs and of Windows itself while you are running Windows; it will turn this into one big file, which you then need to transfer over to the Linux side, where Versora will apply those settings to various Linux programs. Versora works well, is easy to use; however, I did encounter a few irregularities. The most important one: Versora does not seem to transfer rules and filters from Outlook (in my case, 2003) to Thunderbird. This is a major downside, as my set of rules and filters is huge, and it sucks to have to enter them all manually. I had hoped Versora would ease the pain.


    Xandros 4 is a difficult distribution to form an opinion about, simply because it is so contradictory in nature. It outshines any other distribution when it comes to Windows compatibility, and it has the best file manager of any distribution I’ve ever seen. The installation is easy, and the hardware recognition is outstanding, and having my bcm43xx chipset work right out of the box is very, very welcome. The downsides, however, are not to be downplayed. The distribution looks like used toiletpaper, the amount of applications in Xandros Networks is too small, and the security center can be annoying.

    Is your grandmother still running Windows 9x/ME? If so, Xandros 4 might be a perfect choice, as it gives them a solid Linux distribution, which will play nice with all their Windows files and even programs (through Crossover Office). The inclusion of Versora also facilitates the switch.

    However, for more experienced users like you (I guess?) and me, Xandros is simply not the best distribution you can get.

    If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


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