I know this has been a long time coming but I’ve had coursework/exams/an interview to deal with and the actual writing got put on the back burner. However, I have been using Xandros a fair bit and it must be said that I really like it. If you’re not a Slackware junkie (like me) I would reccomend Xandros as the best distro to use – it’s good for experienced users and completed newbies alike.
Not going to go into any detail here – to be honest there isn’t any to go into. I used the custom/advanced options since I don’t trust any installer to automatically figure out what I want to do with my partition tables (I’ve got BeOS, XP and Slackware on this machine as well). One point I will make is that it asked if I wanted to create a boot disk, and probably for the first time ever I said OK. I did this becuase my BIOS was still reporting that I had a standard floppy drive present (I had just reset all the settings and was too lazy to change them) and I wanted to see if this would confuse it. It passed this test with flying colours – it actually used my USB floppy drive to make a boot disk – something I thought I’d never see from any OS. It’s a shame my mobo can’t boot from a USB floppy =O)
Installation was incredibly easy (easy enough for anyone imho) and was not too long.
This is NOT the fastest Linux distro off the blocks, it does take a considerable time to start up and initially I thought that it might have even crashed – animated logos are a good way to pretend things are running fine but they don’t always reflect on the true nature of the system status. After a little while (40-60 seconds tops) the login screen appears, this is a very simple affair and for all it’s non-offensiveness I still seem to find it ugly – I’m not really sure why though. Logging in brought up a new user wizard which allowed configuration of a few basic options such as time and date, language etc.
Using the System:
The standard desktop looks good, as can be seen in the screenshot of the welcome wizard, but I like to customise my system and this was pretty much the first thing I did. Two things I don’t like about the interface are the standard icons and the excessive gap between text on menus and the actual edge of the menu – I am aware this is a KDE issue but it would have been nice if they could have found a fix for it. I’m a Gnome user normally as I tend to find it more polished and professional than KDE.
Upon opening the control center I cringed – there are some major font issues here. I’m used to having problems with fonts in Linux distros (except for Slackware which is always fine) and I think it’s due to using a higher screen res than most (1600×1200) and I’m not sure this is ever fully tested by developers. For instance if I specify i want fonts in size 12 for the panel etc. things come out HUGE. You would think stretching the window out would help but this is not the case. Even after fiddeling with the fonts myself it still looked ugly but it was at least readable.
Mozilla was my next port of call (a browser I use on all platforms) and again more troubles. All of the fonts were massive – not the ones for the web pages which you can change in the preferences, but those used for the menus etc. Firing up OpenOffice.org showed a similar situation, in fact it seems to be all GTK apps. Searching on the forums I found a fix which involved getting the Gnome Control Center and using this to change the font sizes – this worked fine but needed to be set each time the system was started.
I found a thread describing how a XML user theme type file could be changed for mozilla and I used this to fix the problems there – I’m just putting up with OOo as it is. NB – the screen shot is 1600×1200 and this shows what I’d expect OOo to look like at 1024!
I loaded up XMMS and browsed my NTFS partitions (which were automatically mounted read only) and added my music to the playlist. Hit play and heard nothing. It then occured to me that I hadn’t heard any sounds so far, and it occured to my that Xandros was using my SB Live! instead of my onboard sound which my speakers are plugged into. I’m not using the Live! at the moment as it seems to have died a bit and I have no hardware support for DirectX etc. under windows.
I opened the control center and told the sound user to use a custom device, and entered ‘/dev/dsp2’. This worked a treat and after restarting the sound server I had my music. The only issue I still have with this is that the volume controls are bound by default to the SB Live! and hence I can’t quickly change the volume – I must open the full volume control and switch to the correct card each time I want to make an adjustment.
The networking in Xandros is in my opinion, perfect. It detected my RealTek 8139 with no problems and also my onboard Broadcom interface which I don’t use since I can’t be bothered to hunt for Windows drivers for it when I have another working card already.
Integration with Windows networks is a non-issue – it just works. I’ve become quite good at configuring Samba (mainly through SWAT) but it was nice to see that Xandros required none of this. From the word go I could browse the windows network in our house (composed of Windows XP machines and also Samba on my OpenBSD router) and sharing a folder couldn’t be easier. There are no NFS servers on the network so I was haven’t tested this part but I’m sure it will be just as easy.
Getting online through my router took longer than I expected but it would have been a lot faster if I hadn’t entered the wrong IP address for it 🙂 The process should be simple enough for any user to connect, especially since most cable modems and routers will use DHCP.
Xandros Networks is one of the best utilities I have used – I’m guessing it’s strongly related to the Debian tools for package management but I’ve never used Debian so can’t make a comparison. All I know is that upgrading and installing both software and drivers has never been so easy (it’s like a GUI version of the ports systems used in the BSDs although it works with binaries not source). Much of the current software on Xandros Networks is also included in the box on the second CD saving time if you have a slow internet connection.
Kompote is available for instant messaging, and works with an absolute truck load of protocols. I was pleased to find that it worked with MSN as after the latest MSN protocol change I couldn’t get Gaim to work under Slackware.
This, for some people, will be the most important part of Xandros, personally I’m happy with OOo and Mozilla. I did install M$ Office and started using word to write the report for some of my coursework (Java programming for which I downloaded the SDK and used Kate for the code), but after I had written half a page it crashed and I lost my work. I soon discovered that every time I tried to close word it would crash and re-open itself asking if I wanted to reclaim my documents. Unfortunately it didn’t reclaim my document (which I hadn’t saved) and so I used OOo instead. Thinking about it I haven’t yet saved this review so I think I’ll be doing that right now. Right. Excel seemed to work correctly, so I’m not sure what’s wrong with word but I’m not looking into it since I don’t need it.
I tried running Internet Explorer and it seemed to work fine, but as I’ve already mentioned I’m a Mozilla fan and don’t use IE under Windows so have no reason to use it under Linux. While writing this very review I did find an interesting feature of CrossOver, it works very well with a lot of Windows apps since it’s based on WINE, and they can be launched by double clicking them in the Xaxdros File Manager.
Multimedia + Games:
Xandros comes with all the media players a person can need – I can play all of my videos and DVDs without issue – the only video that failed to play was a QuickTime movie from fileplanet.com – but I think that’s the only QuickTime media on my machine anyway and it’s slowly losing out to other formats – despite this it would still be nice to see it working. Trusty ol’ XMMS is present and correct with a multitude of skins, most of which are unfortunately ugly.
Xandros comes with the actual nVidia drivers (no the ‘nv’ drivers that come with X) and this meant that I had hardware acceleration from the first boot. Using Xandros networks I installed Tux Racer and within minutes I was back stuck on the same track that I’ve never been able to get past. There are the usual KDE games avaialable plus some others on Xandros networks such as BilliardsGL and Chromium BSU (an awesome game).
Removeable Media + Peripherals:
My USB floppy drive works perfectly, as does the automounting on my CD Drives. Burning CDs is a very easy process as it is integrated into the XFM, allowing a user to right click on selected files and choose “Write to Disc” which brings up a simple burning dialog. Alternatively, double clicking on the CD Writer icon in the “My Linux” folder (get to this by moving up a level from your home directory) brings up a list of tasks which you may wish to perform.
I have a Palm IIIc which connects to the first serial port on my box, and this worked perfectly and straight away using the pilot tool provided, it includes several conduits allowing the calendar etc. to be synchronised with the KDE addressbook and calendar programs etc.
Browsing the menu I found an entry called “Digital Camera” under the Graphics sub-menu so I connected my USB Sony camera and launched it. It is the Digikam program that comes with KDE, and I’ve never used it before but it didn’t take long to get going. I opened the camera preferences screen and clicked autodetect – this took less than a second to successfully find my camera, and then it was trvial matter to download the images stored on it.
Printing is as easy as it should be on any OS, the welcome wizard autodetected my printer (HP DeskJet 930C) on the parallel port and it worked straight away with no problems at all.
Things I Don’t Like
There are a few things I do not like about Xandros but they are minor points. I don’t like the login screen and the extra space in the menus, and would like to see icons for my partitions/devices on my desktop – automatically adding a CD icon when I insert a CD for example. The Xandros File Manager is a great tool but can appear a little messy – The blue fade on the left hand side when “view as webpage” is selected is particularly ugly and needs removing/improving.
The problem I have with volume changing (see the sound section) is annoying but then having two sound cards and only using the second is a far from common setup. Even when people have a sound card as well as on-board sound it is an acceptable assumption that the PCI card is the one desired for output – not many people leave a broken sound card in their machine and use the on-board option 🙂
Something that would be a definate plus would be to cater for the multimedia keys on many keyboards – I have an MS Natural Pro and it is irritating when I can’t simply move a finger and press a button to change song when I’m typing. I constantly find myself pressing the Windows key as well as D or E to try and hide all the windows or launch my home directory but neither of these combinations have any effect in Xandros.
Problems with font sizes are an issue, and this needs to be addressed. Obviously this is an issue with Linux rather than Xandros, as apps are written using many different toolkits, but it would be nice if somehow I could set the fonts for ALL apps from one place.
The Good Bits
Xandros is one big good bit, apart from the minor niggles I have mentioned I consider this a top quality distribution. It is perfectly usable as a desktop machine although there is always the games issue to tackle. Sure there are good games available for Linux but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to run those that are released for Windows. I never tried installing WineX as my account has now expired and I can’t actually afford to sign up again at the moment, and don’t have the time to work out how to install from CVS – however I would suggest checking it out at www.transgaming.com as it allows many popular games to be played on Linux based operating systems which is always a good thing.
I haven’t encountered any major (or minor bugs) apart from with MS Word, something which can’t be taken for granted with most distros or even other operating systems. I would suggest Xandros is sutiable for all people – I’m a big Slackware fan as I love it’s sheer bloody mindedness when it comes to remaining true to roots, but I think Xandros is going to stay on my machine along side it for when I don’t have time to fiddle around.
The most striking thing about Xandros it that it doesn’t really feel like you’re using Linux, it feels like you’re running an OS that just happens to run Linux (and many Windows) apps and shares some low level workings with Linux. It should be seen as an alternative to OSX and Windows in it’s own right, not just as another Linux distribution as it is much more completete than many other distros – you don’t find yourself having to configure each of your devices – it’s all ready for you.
Xandros 2.0 is one of the best things to happen to Linux in a long time (not counting the release of 2.6 of course!) and I believe with the right publicity it could attract many users over the next year, not only from other distros but also from other platforms.
I’m not going to bother giving a rating for each aspect as each part would quite simply be 10/10, except for appearance (due to fonts) which would be more like an 8.
For those of you who are interested here are some relevant specs of the box used for this review:
Athlon XP 2400+
512 MB DDR
8GB ReiserFS partition for the install
512 MB swap partition (shared with Slackware)
GeForce FX 5800
Taxan 19″ monitor capable of 1600×1200 @ 85 Hz
Realtek 8139 NIC
USB mouse and keyboard