These days, the big players in the Linux “purely-desktop market” are Lycoris, Lindows, ELX and the much awaited Xandros Desktop 1.0. OSNews got their hands to the latest version of Xandros
(beta3b) and we are giving it a whirl. Read more for information and screenshots.
Starting by describing the installation, well, it is the best I have ever seen on a Linux distro (the installer and other parts of the OS are based on Corel’s Linux – Xandros bought the rights last year). It is as simple as it goes, even if it doesn’t look extremely pretty, it successfully installed Xandros on my 3 GB partition on my hdc10 after a 20 minutes installation process via my 4x/32x DVD drive. You get to choose which partition you want to use, or you can repartition an existing partition set on your drives, or resize an existing FAT/FAT32 one. You can set up your networking and create users. You can also either
install all applications, or a minimal set of apps (you get to select if you want). It would be nice to inform the user though how much space is required overall by the system when you check/uncheck applications for installation. Other than that, this is a dead-easy installer to use. Much simpler and straight forward than Windows XP’s installer.
When you reboot, everything is in graphical mode, you don’t see any kernel or init messages going on, but rather the Xandros logo animating in the screen while loading the OS. I should point out that in the beginning you get three
options, to load the OS in normal mode, safe mode or expert configuration mode (just in case something gone wrong you can actually see the text messages
from the booting procedure).
The first time you boot into XFree 4.2/KDE 2.2.2, you get into post-installation where you can modify your printers, the look and feel of the OS etc. The OS by default booted on 1024×768 resolution, but via the Xandros Control Center I
could easily change it to 1280x1024x16bpp@85Hz. The Display Setting panel also support dual or multi monitor configuration. Xandros have also created additional modules for networking, printing and monitor management, all found under the Control Center.
Xandros looks and feels quite a bit like Windows98 in places, possibly this was intentional. The Xandros team have changed some of the icons since last month, which was the time that the first screenshot was released to the public. There is a “Launch” button with the Xandros logo, equivelant to KDE’s and Windows Start Menu, from which you can access the 5 last/most used apps and documents, the special Xandros File Manager, Help, “Run Command” and the Control Center.
Mozilla 1.0 is the main web browser in Xandros Desktop. Xandros uses a unique, home-brewed file manager (looks like something between Konqueror and Explorer). It is really easy to find the mounted filesystems, including your / (Xandros uses ReiserFS), My Home, Printers, Windows Network,
NFS Network, all your Windows partitions showing as C:/ or D:/ etc, CD-ROM and Floppy. I was told by Xandros that some supported digital cameras also mount as hard drives on the File Manager under “Removable Devices”, and then you can go from there and use Gimp to manipulate further your pictures. Some OSNews readers last month were not happy seeing the Windows partitions showing as C and D, but
I can tell you from using it, it is actually more straightforward noticing which partition is which. I have overall 14 partitions on this dual Celeron 533 machine, so it makes it really easy identifying them just by a glance and exchange files with ease.
Xandros has good, automatic, networking integration with Windows, SMB etc. You can also search for computers on a given network. Another cool feature is the “Switch User” one, which let you switch to another X11 screen/session and log in as a different user, kind of like it works in Windows XP.
Other changes include the context desktop menu, which is now simplified and pretty nice, I must say (see screenshot). Also, the “About KDE” is not there anymore on the KDE applications, but there is an “About Xandros” in place (which includes the KDE credits in one of the tabs).
Xandros comes with a fair amount of applications including developer’s tools and KDevelop 2.1. If you want to install more, you can click on Launch/Applications/System/Administrators Tools/Xandros Update (yes, I believe Xandros should make it more obvious/easy to find that there is such a tool available :). Xandros Update can use both DEB and RPMs packages, and it can connect to both the debian mirrors and automatically download binaries, or connect to the Xandros Networks ftp site for OS updates (even kernel updates). Unfortunately, no matter what I tried, when tried to connect to Xandros Networks it was bombing out after downloading 25% of the information needed. The Debian
mirrors worked flawlessly though. There was a fair amount of binary applications available (but there are many more in source form), but one thing that put me off, is the terrible and confusing UI of the Xandros Update application. However, it works pretty well and it figures out the dependancies just fine. Xandros told me that they are retiring this application and they will create a new, better one in place.
The office suite installed by default on Xandros is OpenOffice.org 1.0.1. It works well, but the fonts look really bad. There is no font installation tool that is coming with Xandros that I am aware of, and I did not bother to manually
install my Windows fonts. Also, there is no AA by default on Xandros. Switching to AA, the OS itself will reconfigure KDE to use a serif font that supports AA
instead of the fonts currently selected.
On the multimedia side, there is a CD-burning app included, Xine, Real Player and more. Unfortunately, the included XMMS could not play at all any web radio
stations though, while the “Location” feature works fine on my other four Linux distributions.
Speaking about bugs, I encountered a few, they even rendered my Xandros partition unbootable and had to re-install the OS at one point. However, my biggest gripe so far (the Xandros engineers still investigate to try and find the cause) is the incredible
slow UI experience I get (even after re-installing the OS). I click on the window manager to move away a window, and the window will actually move after 1 second, as if it was glued to the desktop. I have 3 more Linux distributions on this very machine, and none show this behaviour with the window manager or the slow widgets or the general redraw (yes, the correct tdfx driver is loaded – Xfree was the one jumping to 85% of cpu usage even on simple operations). Also, it seems that my card does not work in 3D, even if there are 3D drivers and DRI support for Voodoo5s for quite some time now. However, this
is still a beta, so bugs are absolutely ok to be expected.
This is a desktop OS, meant to be used by both Windows individual users and Windows-based corporations. The hard core geek Linux user is not what Xandros is aiming for. What I have seen so far from this beta 3b, is that this is meant to be an industrial design, carefully crafted towards people who would want to upgrade from Windows98/ME to Linux. Comparing this distro to Lycoris Build-50 beta or the latest Red Hat Null beta, well, it does not look as sexy or
good-looking. But it works pretty well (except the UI slowness issue I am having, which is apparently a bug not so common for other beta testers) and it compares well when it comes to productivity and overall management of the
computer. In fact, the “Terminal” application is also kind of hidden under the System submenu, and not as easy to reach as in other distros.
Xandros people are telling me that a lot more changes are coming to the final version, and possibly, even a jump to KDE 3.x. This is a Linux distribution to watch out for, and it would compete with both Lycoris and Lindows. Who’s going to win most Windows user hearts? Well, we will see in time.