Xandros 4.0 Review - How to do a entry level distro almost right

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This entry was posted on 8/15/2006 9:58 AM and is filed under Distros.

When I first played with Xandros back a few years, it was being touted as the distribution that actually worked and could be a Windows replacement for new users. At the time, I was new to Linux and willing to take that risk and well, wasn't impressed. I then got a hold of a 3.0 distro and loaded it on my wife's laptop so she could stop getting killed by malware and popups. She liked some things of Linux, but by no means is interested in her laptop being either Windows or Linux. Well, the wireless never worked, so she never used it. It was extremely difficult to even attempt setting up NDISWRAPPER, which is by far the easiest way to get wireless working IMHO, so I quit and now it just sits there idle.

So Xandros now has 4.0, which really is nothing super special, mainly upgrading pieces to more recent/less buggy with many of the latest (operational) offerings on the kernel, KDE and other aspects. With their "Making Linux work for you" tag line, lets see how they did...

Details:


Website www.Xandros.com
Kernel - 2.6.15 or higher (I love how they at least tell you what comes out of the box)
Desktop - KDE 3.4.2 Xandros Enhanced
Specs - http://www.Xandros.com/products/home/home_edition/specs.html
Cost - Home $39.99 Premium $79.99 (30 day free Trial) $129.95 Business
Special Features - Included Code Weavers (in Premium version), NTFS Read/Write Support

Nitty Gritty:

Installation (
)

With a distro that is touted as being a Windows replacement for newbies, the first test for me is how much gray matter does it take to install. If I have to call upon knowledge via another computer googling this and that, it will get a 1. A 5 is reserved for the fact that I don't do anything and it can read my mind on what I want.

So the test starts for Xandros and quickly it is a clean looking boot into the installer. You know what is happening all the way up to the first screen. You are welcomed in a with a very simple screen telling you what you are doing today. One thing I really like on this is that it keeps you informed all the time of where you are in the process and keeps the option of going back for the user. If you have any questions during this, there is a nice resource located here.



The next screen is the lawyer speak for this is yours and not mine, but I reserve the right to change what is yours and make it mine again. Really, the EULA here is pretty basic and nothing in there scared me.



The next step is important for new installs, in that it allows the installation to continue is newbie mode or in a mode more advanced, but not too nuts that you need a PhD in cyber speak in order to succeed.



For the sake of keeping the windows easy, I went ahead with the Custom install, but remember one can always go back and choose Express if they get lost.




What I like here is that you have two methods of playing in the Custom sandbox: One click grab it all; item by item. This allows the really picky people to hunt and peck if they like, or for the more simple minded folk like me, you can just grab the whole bag at once. The difference in the Express and the Custom Complete seems to be only a few items such as Organizer, Drivers, PIM devices (such as Palm), and the media player. While these are not all critical items to run, I would think that media player would be nice to have as a default, but with the silly licensing issues with that, once can easily tell why they kept it clear from the Express.

The next screen really is what I know is critical for folks who plan on Dual booting with Windows still alive on their PC. This is the disk screen, and it allows the user to determine what partition, if any available, to install Xandros onto. It evens tells you that trying to modify these partitions now is really something that an expert should try, rather than mere mortals. By giving the options of using free space (you won't break a thing), taking over (say goodbye to the old, hello new), resize a Windows (move over Bill, I coming in), Replace Xandros (thanks for coming back home) and then expert (Look out momma, trying to fly) I think that they simplified a step that can really put off the newbie. Again, this option is not available for the Express install, that just makes a decision based on what it could find. Using the option of Free Space is also the default if the partition is blank as in the case of my trial for the Express installation.



Take over disk still allows the user to choose where they want to install. On advanced machines where there are several partitions, this is important so that you don't over write the wrong one (been there, done that). It also asks where you wish to over write the master boot record, which is also extremely important so that you know how your system will boot. Typically I place this at the MBR rather than on a partition if I am going to be dual booting with windows.



Networking is next and Xandros found my network card and then allows me to tweak what it thinks I should be doing. I didn't have wireless on the machine I tested this with, but will test that later on and update the site with any findings (Have to get permission to break my wife's laptop 8-S)



So that concluded the Custom options on the installation and the fork in the road brings us back to where the Express would have already taken us. The only real change we made was to do a complete installation rather than the default, but realistically that would have not been noticeable in any way once we completed.




The Admin screen is extremely straight forward, providing options for the password (you can't leave it blank for the lazy people out there), a computer name for use on networks primarily, and then options for user password strength, and home folder being private (stay out of my stuff mom). I am not a huge fan of the strength option as it just makes your day longer in the end on remembering passwords.

The next window gets us to the user additions, which one should always do. By not creating a user account, and only running Linux in Admin role, well that would be like having a diamond store full of the most high tech security in the world, and not locking the front door. Just create a user account and be safe all the time. I know it can be a pain, but really, is typing SU that hard????



As always, the user name is lower case with no funky stuff, and you then can create the real name along side and the default password.

And then that is that. One Linux distro ready to be installed. Note how nicely the system warns you on a Take Over Partition option that you could be doing some nasty things, so make sure you know what you are doing.




I can honestly say that Xandros does have one of the cleanest and easiest installations on the planet. I would have to say that they are the closest to getting a 5 out there, and would probably if this wasn't my first review.
Nothing in the installation is above any user who has done anything close to install any software. I commend the Xandros team on creating a distro that can truly get off the ground running in limited time and no excess gray matter usage. Thank you, thank you and thank you for that.



Onto bigger and better things; she is quick out of the gate, but how does she corner???

Starting ( )

Well, I am not a fan of their boot selector, I mean this is exactly the same as 3.0, and doesn't do much for the eye candy appeal, and really no excitement or incite for the newbie on what is even happening. However I think I might be looking too hard for an issue as the install happened a bit too easily.



One thing you quickly notice when firing up Xandros the first time is pretty nice graphics. Nice in that they don't try and go over the top, which could slow down the process on older systems.




The boot screen is equally simple and clean, allowing the user to choose to login as the user created during installation, or the evil Admin login. Please note I am not a fan of the admin option of logging in, as it eventually makes newbies login as root, making their systems more susceptible to intrusion.



Like many KDE based distros, there is a nice First Time Run utility that allows you to setup time zones, printers, affects, etc...but is nothing new.



One new item in the First Time Run is the Registration with Xandros, which tells the user in order to get new software and updates they MUST register. Now, I am not opposed to this, and is pretty simple up front, but I do like the idea of me being anonomous to the OS provider. Do they really need to know me, especially if I paid $40 to get their OS to this point??? Getting a code is pretty simple, but I am giving a bit more data than I really would want too. Whether or not this still supports Apt-get is to be seen, which I will update later.



And honestly, that is a pretty common theme with Xandros: nothing new. It is a very vanilla distro in that there are no real bells or whistles, but I think that is the true intention. It is really designed as a packaged Linux distro that newbies can enjoy, get a PC up and running with in minimal time and effort and do what people want to do on computers, surf baby, surf. It allows for quick support with iPods, music, media and NTFS systems with Read/Write support, so you have a new Linux system that can talk to your older Windows boxes as well. It is truly a product that they intended it to be, and for that I give them credit. I doubt it will ever win over the hearts and minds of true Linux fans who live for the challenge of it all, but for mom and dad who are retired and can barely tell the difference between a mouse and a keyboard, this is definitely an option to look into.

Bonus Stuff ( )

So why should someone put out $40 for a distro when there are others that are FREE???? And realistically the only configuration that makes any sense is really the Premium at that gets up to $80. So what do you get for that? First of all (and most arguably what sets Xandros apart from the crowd) is CodeWeavers. In a nut shell, codeweavers is Wine tweaked to really work better and with a cleaner front end. So what is Wine then? Well, it stands for Wine Is Not An Emulator, and basically allows programs for Windows to be run within Linux. Do all work? Not really. So CodeWeavers has tweaked and pulled Wine for specific packages, mainly Microsoft Office, iTunes, Adobe packages and some other software that just doesn't exist in the forms Windows users would want. It is a bridge for the Windows users that just can't get rid of Word, Excel and Outlook and are affraid to work in OpenOffice, or simply don't want to try.

CodeWeavers alone is $39.95, so that covers the delta between the basic and premium costs, but there are other packages and a link in Xandros explains that. There are several key product differentiators for the $40, but the base cost of Xandros is still a mystery to me. Again, I don't mind people trying to make money in building a superior product, but the cost here is really for a convenience over superior and there are other packages out there today that offer the same level of support, quality and ease for FREE.

One feature that I am not fully in tune with is a nice to have package called Versora, which is a migration package from Windows to Linux. This type of application would work well for most newbies getting their key documents, settings, and attributes over. How well it works would really depend on the user's expectations and details that they are moving.

Another nice package in the distro is the Security Center, which really pulls together all the issues a newbie might be concerned about. Again, there is a for sale security package with Virus Checking, Firewall services (which are going against one of the current strengths of Linux) but I understand the concept in providing this in a user friendly way and applaud the centralized control and visibility of the product.



Overall ( )

So what do I think overall? (if you care, right ) Xandros has a really strong product, but I think they outprice their market. At $80 for a package that delivers what people would want, they are too near the cost of Windows which also does everything they do(and some a bit better). If they are after the orphaned Win 98 and ME consumers who are scratching their heads now that support is over, they missed by about 100 yards. I love the ease of the product, the great look and feel that KDE provides and how Xandros is sticking to what works in packages, kernels and simple software bundles. CodeWeavers is good for those who want to have the Windows packages, but Wine is also a viable option and again there is a pricing issue as to the value of what this really provides today when OpenOffice is gaining strength on its own for an Office package, reducing the need for Wine. If most of these came in a cheaper package, where it was not basically as much as MS, then no doubt this would be a 4 Pennie package. As it sits, 3 Pennies is all I can give until they offer a FREE base package similar to what Freespire is to Linspire, which to me is a direct comparison product offering (and also our next package to be reviewed)

So I will be probably deleting my install and moving on to keep the lookout for the Nirvana, but would recommend this strongly to any newbie who is tired of Redmond ways and wants the control that Linux provides back to the user, but not to my Linux friends looking for that thrill of the compile and having the cutting edge.

KnoLinuxGuy
 

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    • 8/15/2006 6:45 PM Nelson Lobo wrote:
      Detailed article -- well explained. Could you give some more details on the applications bundled?. Is the multimedia section fully capable?
      On the lighter side -- lovely wife to give you permission to break her laptop. Her secret -- I will get a new one from my dear husband!
      Reply to this
      1. 8/15/2006 8:09 PM Kevin wrote:
        Well thanks for the feedback, and I hopefully won't ever break the laptop that bad, plus I still have the original restore e disks always handy. I do need to do a backup soon, so that I don't lose too much...

        On the media side, the packages that come with are KPlayer titled as Media Player and Amarok titled as Music Manager. I love Amarok as it will allow sync with an iPod, and does a great job organizing music. It is by far one of my favorite music organizers for Linux.

        DVD is another story. They do package Xine, but in the restricted format where you will need to search for the codecs in order to get it operational, which for me is just a pain. I have done it so many times now I know exactly where to go, but come on, for $80 they should pay the fee and allow for the convenience.

        After that, office applications must be loaded manually after installation, which I think is due to CodeWeavers being there. Again, they shouldn't put the onus when you pay more for this than any other package. Freespire/Linspire this can be purchase in the Click N Run package manager, which is more complete than what Xandros has to offer.

        Again thanks for the feedback, and let me know if you have any more question/comments.

        Cheers
        Reply to this
    • 8/16/2006 1:14 PM Bill Hill wrote:
      I like the review as far as it went, but you really didn't go deep enough to show where the value for money was. Until you've used it on your main machine for greater than 90% of your daily activities for a few weeks, you probably won't find out. Installation tells a lot about a distro, but surely isn't the whole story.
      . Xandros does offer the OCE version that is fee to use just like Freespire, but it is still at v.3.02. IDK if they plan to update that with v.4 or not.

      .bh.
      Reply to this
      1. 8/16/2006 2:15 PM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        BH
        This is very true about playing with distros for weeks and getting to know them, but my experience has been once I get it installed I can generally tell how well they have put things together. I plan on putting more details in the review about specifics such as media players, wireless, office apps and general usability associated with each, but I can tell pretty quick if the package for KDE or Gnome will work well. IMHO the installation and initial setup is what is most critical, especially for newbies who are trying Linux for the first time. That is why I like LIVE discs so much in that you can play with the distro and see how it works on your hardware BEFORE you install. Sure, some just don't work well with their hardware detection, but for the most part once installed, things generally are pretty similar from family to family (mandrake to mandrake, redhat to redhat, debian to debian).

        Yes I have a copy of the OCE version that I tried, but that leaves out most of the goodies that really sets Xandros apart from other packages. I hope they will offer 4.0, but they don't have much for revenue beyond the initial purchase, where Linspire/Freespire has CNR memberships to fall back on.

        Thanks for the comments and best wishes

        KnoLinuxGuy (Kevin)



        Reply to this
        1. 8/17/2006 9:18 AM Bill Hill wrote:
          Xandros also has higher level subscriptions to Xandros Networks software library for income. But I have no idea how many take them up on it.

          .bh.
          Reply to this
          1. 8/17/2006 10:13 AM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
            Yes bh, I have learned about that recently. Seems that they are trying their best, but if you look at the packages available, I don't know if I would even think of paying that much more for the limited data. Even the rebate for Win98 people doesn't really work for me, as Freespire is still free, has a better package with CNR and I personnally think better support community.

            Thanks and best wishes

            KnoLinuxGuy

            Reply to this
    • 8/18/2006 1:56 AM Tor Erling wrote:
      WINE is an acronym for Wine Is Not An Emulator, it's not emulating anything it's just a linux implementation of the windows API..
      Reply to this
      1. 8/18/2006 6:17 AM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        Thank you Tor for the clarification. I will fix that immediately. I guess I was on a bad wiki when I found that.

        Cheers!!!!!

        KnoLinuxGuy (Kevin)

        Reply to this
    • 8/19/2006 6:28 AM David Wrigley wrote:
      Having used version 3 and upgraded to V4, I have to say that I was slighly dissappointed in that the offering was 'too little too late' and too expensive. Yes it installs a treat and the facility to read and write to NTFS drives/partitions is great for us dualbooters. and it is very stable. But there it ends. Its not an exciting poroduct, the supported applications are not the latest and the spread of applications is poor. I was one of those unfortunate ones to shell out an additional $39 for premium membership, (not to be confused with the premium home edition)in the belief that I could download a much wider variety of apps but this was truly a disappointment. Its only a personal opinion but they are quite poor at keeping the applications up to date and offering the variety necessary to keep you interested.

      Was it worth it? It cost just over $50 for the upgrade, $39 for premium membership plus $30+ for postage to the uk. Quite an outlay compared to my favourite distro, Ubuntu, which is better supported and more up to date, and is totally free, with a donation optional.
      Reply to this
      1. 8/19/2006 7:20 PM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        I have this a lot from Xandros people, frustrated that the latest version just fixed things that should have been patches to 3, instead of an entire new version costing them quite a bit. Depending on what you are looking for in a package, people like Xandros tend to love Freespire. It works almost as easy on everything across the board and the CNR warehouse is 100 times better than what Xandros has. With Freespire you can get the free software out of CNR using apt-get without a membership for those who want a solid package without the annual fees. This also works for their OSS package which is completely free of any proprietary packages.

        My next review is going to be on Dreamlinux, which is a small package out of Brazil, which is high on style, simplicity and functionality. Only issue so far is my Portugese is non-existant, which then the support doesn't really work too well.

        Thanks for the comments, good luck with getting a package that works well for you.

        Cheers!!!

        KnoLinuxGuy


        Reply to this
    • 8/20/2006 6:37 PM Terry wrote:
      Altho it may be a little 'geeky' for a desktop review, for many Xandros users their file manager XFM is worth the cost of the distro. It is one of their proprietary products that is not in the free version. After you've used it a while, the only thing you can say about it is 'it works!". It comfortably handles files, CD/DVD burning, and all sorts of networking chores with an almost pleasant style.
      Reply to this
    • 8/31/2006 4:18 AM jay wrote:
      Not entirely fair to compare the cost with Microsoft, since Xandros 4 can be legally installed on numerous computers, and activated on 10 (I believe).
      Reply to this
      1. 8/31/2006 7:39 AM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        Very true Jay, but do you think about that when spending that amount of money on an OS? Oh boy, I get to install this on 10 machines...do many people have that many to install on? Your point is well taken, you can legally install Xandros 4.0 on more than one machine, but why not unlimited for that one person for that amount? I mean, is Xandros better than Freespire? PCLinuxOS? openSuse? Sure, those are more of a Beta distro, but at least have one version of your latest product without CodeWeavers that is open for people to have without needing to spend so much. Or people will spend the $80 and get the one copy of windows that they more than likely need.

        Just my humble opinion, so thanks for you view

        Cheers!!!!

        KnoLinuxGuy

        Reply to this
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