Xandros: Good Defaults but with Expandability Problems

What happens when a user moves full time to Xandros? How the technical and third party software support works out of the Canadian Linux distro?
I have been using Xandros for a few weeks now and recently I have had to use it as my sole machine. There are some good things to it, but don’t sue it if you plan to do anything with it outside of basically what’s installed. Oh, and dont even think of looking for anything more than basic support.

I’m a programmer by trade and have used windows 2000 mostly but for various reasons have wanted to move over to Linux. I like to play around with technologies but I am not what you would call a hacker and cant compile a kernel to save my life nor do I want to.

That said I have been somewhat dissatisfied with many of the major distributions out there. They all seem to be “windows” like without actually being useable and most have seemingly left out the power user completely. By windows like I partially mean by look and feel but I also mean not having to deal with dependency hell and having to scramble around looking for patches.

So I began installing a few distributions. I started with Red Hat which didn’t work for me then tried SUSE which was ok but also didn’t do it for me as did mandrake. Thought I’d tried something more for “power” users like Slackware and couldn’t get it to install which bothers me because I’ve read of many people saying how easy it is and how great the OS is. Tried Gentoo and didn’t get anywhere with it.

So in my frustration I just kept looking. I wasn’t really all that into Lindows and in truth I had forgotten about Libranet. I also tried Debian and couldn’t figure out how to get that going either.

Then I read a few reviews of Xandros and liked what I saw. I picked up a copy of the version with Crossover Office installed and went to work.

First off the installation is lickety split and is on only one CD. It installs the basics which I liked as I don’t use most of the other things that are usually installed on Linux distributions.

The first thing I noticed was the nice layout of the interface. They use KDE and don’t include gnome which is a gripe of mine and something they need to change. But that said this is the best looking KDE I have seen. A big part of this distribution of course is the Xandros File Manager (XFM) which is very good at what it does.

At first this was only a temporary system and a windows 2000 machine was my main machine. Unfortunately just a few days ago I had a hard drive failure, which was impending and the reason I was looking to switch to a new system, however when it finally happened it also took out the motherboard so now I have been stuck with Xandros as my main system.

As I went through the transition I was very impressed with many aspects of Xandros. They just work. There were some small issues I had such as not finding an adequate development environment but that is more a Linux issue than a Xandros issue. I also have an issue though with the speed of the distribution. It’s darn slow and slow to react to anything you do.

Another big aspect of Xandros is Xandros Networks which is supposedly their online software repository. At first I thought this was very cool and it does have some nice features. I was able to download MYSQL off there very easily and let Xandros deal with dependencies and the like.

However as I started needing to use it a bit more it became very annoying and actually very confusing. There’s also just not much on there. And the files have no version or dates on them so you have no idea what you are installing and unfortunately in the world of Linux and windows as well code can change quite a bit from version to version.

Now being that this is the version with crossover I played around to see how it would work. I use OpenOffice.org myself and don’t need MS Office installed but I wanted to see how it worked. So I installed Textpad which I am actually writing this on now. It installed fairly easily and it was nice because it showed up in the menu system.

However this functionality has little to do with anything Xandros did and in fact Crossover has rather limited functionality. Yet Xandros on its site claims to have “unparalleled” windows compatibility. Huh? I don’t think so. What they should have done is gotten VMWare or even Win4Lin on the system and optimized it for this distribution.

In fact I tried to install a trial of VMWare and that’s when the bad feelings towards Xandros began. Actually they began before that when I tried to install something which need the gnome libraries and ran into dependency hell.

The only support they seem to have other than phone or email which I am not really looking for as I’ve found the online Linux communities is second to none often with distributions is the Unofficial Xandros Forums which is somewhat helpful if not very juvenile in both form and functionality.

So after checking it out for a few days and seeing some people getting decent help and some being treated in ways I find disgraceful I finally put up a posting about Xandros not really being all that professional as a system and I stated the reasons one of them being having problems with VMWare.

Before I posted my problems I had found a listing by their supposedly only support person on installing VMWare. I hadn’t realized initially that it was two years old or so. I tried it anyway and it sort of worked but sort of didn’t. The initial problem had to do with c header files not being installed which shocked me. What made it even worse was the response and supposed fix which was very terse and not something a normal user could do.

What surprised me though is that instead of helping me in their forums a user just came up with the “Xandros didn’t make VMWare so why should they help you”. I had seen this before in other forums and this attitude simply leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Fine I don’t expect Xandros to create a patch for me but the Linux communities is about the users helping each other out.

After reading several of these related to my posting and others I have realized that if you use Xandros for what it is and that’s it its fine. Anything else and forget about it. Whether this is good or bad I don’t know but to me part of the Linux world is that you want to play around and try things. Unless you are Lindows or are simply and blatantly marketing your system towards users who will never intend on touching the system which apparently is Xandros intended audience hence when they say business user they really mean one that will use maybe MS Office and that’s about it.

Two other issues I’ve had with it are that for some unknown reason it uses the entire ram, 386 Megs or whatnot, which I have. Why is that? I don’t understand this. Also I decided to use ReiseFS as the file system and now it is read or writing to the hard drive every five seconds. It’s annoying! Another thing is that for some reason the screen size can’t be adjusted. It’s ok by default but a little small.

For now I have no choice but to run Xandros but I have decided that I will be changing distributions to something more flexible. I am not sure what that will be at all. There are many things I like about Xandros but at the same time it has left me feeling like its more like Lindows than it is say I guess Slackware with its speed. And the support have left me feeling sorry I even bothered.

Supposedly they say it’s stable as can be but I have had various programs crash on me at different times including the whole system itself which rebooted.

I do think Xandros is a truly great distribution and probably one of the most useable out there. But if you are going to have more people use it you have to have support. And as far as “business” people being the targeted group from what I have seen it’s far more the home user with its focus on reading every type of file out of the box and having things like Xine and Mpeg run right out of the box.

Overall I give it 5 out of 10. Ok maybe that’s a little harsh. Great system overall but lousy support especially for anything outside of anything that Xandros has installed itself.

So its back to looking for a distribution more suitable for my needs. Who knows what ill try? I have heard Slackware is great so maybe ill try that
again. But again it’s too bad because Xandros is the most useable distribution I have seen again unless you want to go outside of its own environment. In that case forget it Xandros isn’t for you.


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