Xandros Desktop Deluxe 1.0 Review
Xandros Desktop is a beautifully crafted operating system by a staff of meticulous and talented human beings. Had I not experienced one major roadblock during my initial installation, I would doubt that this creation had sprung from human hands. With that said, I will take you further into the highest highs and the melancholy lows of my awkward waltz with Xandros.
The experience began with anticipation. Perhaps it was a stroke of luck that the Xandros package finally arrived at my house three weeks after it was shipped thanks to the holidays and several miscommunications between a large brown van and myself. Finally, the package came and I opened it like a delayed gift with hope and a precocious smile. Maybe it was the wait. Maybe it was the holiday residue. All I knew was this offering had a staggering benchmark to live up to due to my wildly exaggerated expectations. My first impressions were that the packaging looked professional. The presentation was elegant, simple and sleek, quite SUSE-like. The book that came with Xandros was easy to decipher and there were two discs in the package along with a registration card. The operating system was on one disc and there was also a Technology Preview CD for those anxious to tamper with the stability of the thoroughly tested standard installation disc. I am no longer in need of the latest and greatest. The new grail for me is an operating system that works and runs all of the programs that I love.
The 2-Day Install
The previous sentence would have been a great transition into a seamless installation, yet that is not the way it unfolded for me. Had I been the average Windows user who wanted to perform the "Express Install" and obliterate all previous chapters of my computing life then perhaps my installation could have gone without a hitch. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. I entered the experience as curious Mandrake user used to creating separate partitions for my /, /usr, /var, /tmp and /home directories. I was willing to wipe Mandrake and salvage only my home directory while maintaining my partition structure so I chose the "Custom Install" option. Then those lows I eluded to earlier began to plant the seeds of human error into my otherwise glorious tale. The installation has been clocked at 10-30 minutes in other articles. My odyssey lasted about 2 days and 10 minutes. After booting from the installation CD and accepting the license agreement I selected Custom Install. That is where things started unraveling. I realized I could not eliminate my 2 gigabyte root ( / ) partition because it was a primary partition and I could only created a second primary partition. Therefore I could not use the 20 gigabytes of space that once existed as the root, usr, var, and tmp partitions for a new root partition. I decided to setup my partitions exactly as they were divvied up under Mandrake. That seemed like a reasonable solution at the time. Each of the partitions was labeled and the install went along without a hitch. I found the package selection screen to be simple and straight forward, a far cry from the maze containing hundreds of redundant applications found with most of the major commercial distributions. My hardware appeared to have been detected accurately so I setup the network, configured my security, added user accounts and coasted into the first reboot of the Xandros OS. Then the "1.0" portion of the operating system’s title reared its ugly head and left me in search of help on several message boards and in communication with the email support from Xandros. During the first reboot I discovered that I could only login as root. Upon entering the account information for my user account the screen blinked and then returned me to the graphical login prompt. I then applied some Linux knowledge and switched to the command-line interface to confirm that the accounts I created were recognized by the system. They were. Unfortunately I could not get the graphical interface to work without outside assistance. Then I had the chance to see how mature version 1.0 of Xandros Desktop Support was. To my delight my email was returned within a day with the answer to my problem. Apparently there is a defect in the current release that causes systems configured with a separate /usr partition to fail the graphical login. This was a frustrating defect for me, but the level of support I received is far more important in the long run. To remedy this situation I was forced to use Mandrake’s partition utility. The Xandros partition utility is the weakest application in the operating system. I hope this is corrected in the next version.
Finally, The Desktop (All the Small Things)
Once I reinstalled, this time using three partions (swap, / and /home), I was able to continue normally after completing the initial steps described above. The first reboot showed signs that Xandros was taking cues from Windows and incorporating staples of other desktop Linux distributions. I saw that my boot options were Xandros Desktop (normal mode), Safe Video Mode (failsafe) and Configure (expert mode). By selecting or defaulting to the Xandros Desktop option several logical messages were displayed indicating the various stages of the booting process without the cryptic code of most Linux scrolling text messages. Once past the messages I noticed to my surprise and delight the proprietary Nvidia drivers loaded automatically for my GeForce 2MX video card. Then I was prompted to select a user and type in the password for one of the accounts created during installation. Next, I went through the First Run Wizard to customize the look and feel of the desktop. The wizard allowed me to configure my mouse, the system behavior (Windows, Mac OS, UNIX etc.) and culminated with links to Xandros Networks and a Registration page. I set my system behavior to "Xandros Default" and went hunting for all of the killer apps I had seen written up previously. It was all there. Every article I have read has doted over the Xandros File Manager and they are right. It is great and more than just a carbon copy of Nautilus or Windows Explorer. I found that it exemplified the engineering of the graphical interface designed by developers that care about and understand the importance of comfortable computing. For all of the attributes of the XFM take a look at the review on DistroWatch.com. There are many subtle modifications that make it extremely useful, but who cares about a great program if Joe User cannot find it. The genius of the design was placing XFM on the quick launch bar and labeling all of the applications intuitively. Also, going with the best-of-breed approach of choosing a single application to perform a single function made life much easier. And for adding additional software I found that Xandros Networks was straightforward. You will not find the newest versions of all the applications, but they work. Everything I installed showed up in a logical place in the menus and I had no problems. There were numerous sensible modifications made throughout the operating system. One modification that made life easier was adding the ability to release and renew IP addresses from the Network section of the Control Center. You could also change all display properties by right-clickingand selecting properties from the desktop. Xandros also included an attractive list of desktop images to choose from. The killer app for me is the focus on convenience. I did not have to think of ways to find the right application or help. One of the items included from Xandros Networks was the entire Linux Cookbook in PDF format. There was a whole list of books I could download for free and read at my leisure to learn more about Linux.
The Xandros Desktop development team should be applauded for the simple elegance and fearlessness exhibited in the construction of this system. I have finally found a Linux OS that is not afraid of alienating hardcore Linux users by incorporating some of the triumphs of Windows like certain aspects of the XFM and acknowledging the importance of access to Microsoft Office through Crossover Office. A function that I found extremely useful was the one-click access to another user’s desktop so that anyone could have his or her own space without a confusing Ctrl-Shift-Fx key combination. They have also cast aside the belief that Windows converts will be frightened by an operating system that proudly acknowledges it is wholly and completely based on GNU/Linux. Xandros makes it obvious that its roots are in Debian and brings many of the best aspects of Debian to the forefront. I was even able to setup apt functionality allowing me to add software directly from Debian’s source sites with the help of the forums available on forums.xandros.com. Another aspect that impressed me was the stability. I installed at least thirty applications without a crash and with minimal reboots. This ability to be the best of both worlds leaves Xandros in a class all it’s own. Then there is the contention that every flavor of Linux should be available as a free download. I commend the distributions that can make every release freely available and keep a roof over their heads, but I don’t think there should be a bias against any product that really is worth every penny. Xandros is unequivocally worth a $99 investment in comfort, simplicity, support and solid engineering. It is not perfect, but I am sold.
- Xandros File Manager
- Crossover Office
- Best of Breed Applications
- Support provided
- Partitioning Software
- No /usr partition
Great Debian-based operating system.