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Review: Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0

By Nathan Willis on July 07, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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The newly released Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0 is one of the few remaining for-pay Linux distributions on the consumer market. The Home Edition is available for $40, or $80 for a Premium Edition. What do you get for your hard-earned cash? Let's take a look.

On the technical side, Xandros 4.0 is a Debian-derived distro shipping with a 2.6.15 kernel and a KDE 3.4.2 desktop environment. Xandros has put a lot of work into customizing the user experience, slimming down and reorganizing menus and panels, adding some custom applications, and integrating some third-party Windows compatibility apps -- all with an eye toward making its operating system painless for refugees from Microsoft.

Xandros has streamlined the available applications, both in terms of selection and look and feel. Most of the apps are described by generic name in the system menu -- Photo Manager, Music Manager, and the like -- even though underneath they are the same KDE applications veterans are used to. When you select Music Manager from the menu, a Xandros-specific "Music Manager" splash screen pops up, but once the app itself has launched, it calls itself amaroK. If a new user doesn't understand what that disparity means, then he may be confused -- especially since amaroK (like most music apps) needs to run a setup wizard before getting started the first time.

Apps, apps, apps

Xandros has put a lot of work into paring down the often overwhelming array of applications presented by other Debian-based distros. The system uses a specialized app called Xandros Networks to install new applications and update existing software. XN is a front end to APT, of course, but it connects to Xandros' customer-only repositories -- which is where you will see the streamlined app selections. You can also use APT tools to reach standard repositories.

XN Screenshot
The Xandros Networks client. Click to enlarge

Under XN, is available, but KOffice and GNOME Office are not. Yet the streamlining process does not seem to reflect a simple best-of-breed philosophy. Skype and KPhone, which serve the exact same purpose, are both available. One might think both are present because Skype is proprietary and KPhone is free and open. But Thunderbird, KMail, and Evolution are also all available, and there is no such distinction between them.

Xandros supplies several no-cost commercial applications, including the aforementioned Skype, Adobe Reader, and RealPlayer. XN can also connect to a special "store" repository through which users can purchase additional commercial titles. Confusingly, some of the software titles in the store are free, and several are free software (as in GPLed), but are only available for purchase to Xandros subscribers.

I found it interesting that, given the inclusion of some non-free components, the company included neither MP3 creation nor encrypted DVD playback with its offerings. Both are available through third-party suppliers, and Xandros makes a point to push "iPod compatibility" in its marketing materials.

We do Windows

Besides ease of use, the other main area that Xandros touts is Windows compatibility. Bundled with the Premium Edition of Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0 is Crossover Office, which is also available to non-Premium owners via XN. Crossover is well integrated into desktop environment; when I inserted a Windows application CD, Crossover detected it and auto-ran the installer. Likewise, I downloaded a Windows app from Google, and Crossover detected it and auto-launched the installer again. In both cases, there were no hiccups and the new Windows apps were integrated into the system menus. I am not a connoisseur of Windows software, so I cannot push Crossover to its limits, but as a casual user I found it a welcome addition, as I'm certain a recent convert to Linux would.

Xandros also bundles Versora Progression Desktop with its distro, on a separate CD. Versora is a Windows migration tool; you run the CD in your Windows computer, and it creates a migration package containing your personal data, address book contacts, email messages, and so on, which you then import into Xandros. It strikes me as a welcome addition for migrating users.

Safety and support

On the security front, Xandros 4.0 includes a nice graphical app called Xandros Security Suite (XSS) which is intended to provide point-and-click access to firewall, anti-virus, and intrusion detection features. XSS runs a small monitor in the task bar notification area that blinks and pops up warning messages on security events. The main XSS app displays a summary pane for four components: Xandros Anti Virus protection, Xandros firewall, "system file protection," and security updates via the XN service.

Xandros Anti Virus is a custom-written front end to the free ClamAV package. With it, you can set up virus scanning rules and automated schedules. The Xandros Firewall Wizard guides you through a simple iptables configuration (basic, port-blocking rules only). The system file protection tool checks for rootkits. All are painless and easy to use.

Purchasers of any edition of Xandros Desktop Linux receive a temporary email support contract. I had several issues at the outset -- installing Xandros requires a serial number, which you must register to an email address, which in turn generates an activation code, which you must use to access XN ... and somewhere along the line, that process got trapped in an indeterminate state. The support team was fast and thorough in its responses as we sorted out the problem.

My assessment

All in all, Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0 is as solid as any other recent Linux distribution. These days, a commercial distro must differentiate itself from the competition on the basis of integration, management, and ease-of-use tools, points on which Xandros scores admirably. Similarly, Xandros sets its sights dead center on new users migrating from the Windows platform, and does a good job of welcoming them and making their transition hassle-free.

Coming as I do from the completely free distro Ubuntu, it irks me on ethical grounds to see a distro stamp its own name on applications and services developed by others, as Xandros does to many of its tools. But at the same time, I understand why the company does it, and I do not believe it is out of evil intent. Rather, part of the perceived intimidation factor of Linux is the wide and wild nature of a desktop distribution's component parts. Xandros seeks to unify the language of its OS to put users at ease.

Not all experienced Linux users will have the same reaction to the re-branding of open source software; for many the mettle of a distro is in its performance alone. To those, I say that you should give Xandros a serious look. Do not be put off by the paucity of pre-packaged software available from the company; you can still add, remove, and customize the system as much as you like -- just not through XN. Xandros is easy to use; it is not hamstrung.

All that said, we should revisit the opening statement: Xandros is one of the few remaining for-pay Linux distributions on the consumer market. That might be worth thinking about before you shell out hard-earned cash for a retail copy. Where Xandros excels is as a Windows replacement -- either a migration tool, or a Linux distro for heterogeneous networks. It is a good fit for small business environments. There are not a lot of other players in this space (Linspire is the closest competitor), which could be a bellwether of things to come. Businesses deploying Linux in an office environment need to know that the company they purchase their operating system from will still be around in several years. If for-pay Linux distros are going the way of the dodo, purchasing one is a risky proposition.

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on Review: Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0

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Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 07, 2006 11:09 PM
In reguards to naming programs I do the same thing under Windows when I fix somebody's computer. FireFox is renamed "Internet", Opera is renamed "Explorer" and set to ID as IE, Thunderbird gets renamed "Email", QCD gets renamed "Music Player", and Nero gets renamed "CD-Burner".

Internet Explorer is removed from the screen and the identifying registery text is changed to "DO NOT USE". Same thing with Outlook Express.

I started renaming the program tags just so people could have an easier time identifying the programs to use, and I know I'm not the only tech that does this.

Nice to see Xandros doing it as well, who wants to bet Microsoft will do it with Vista?


Re:Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 12:04 AM
I don't know. I've always told them that Firefox will let them browse the web, and then they use it. If they can't remember a couple simple instructions, maybe they should just use AOL.


Re:Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 04:00 PM
I actually put in paranthesis behind the application name a 'verbalization' of what the app accomplishes (I did it for my mother and my sister). Like this:

(internet browser)

(chat application)

(Play music and listen to music)


Re:Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 05:43 PM
I don't have a problem with renaming programs. What I do have a problem with is that I don't get the feeling that Xandros is contributing anything back to the open source/Linux communities.

As was stated on <a href="" title="">LugRadio</a> at one point - Xandros appears to be committed to the advancement of the Xandros Desktop, and not necessarily Linux or Open Source Software.

<a href="" title="">JediMoose</a>


Re:Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 09, 2006 10:00 PM
As long as it's GPL, what difference does it make?


Re:Re-naming the programs : I do it too

Posted by: Administrator on July 12, 2006 02:05 AM
Rest assured that Xandros contributes back heavily to the open source and Linux communities. It doesn't do it under the Xandros name but the individual developers are heavy contributors to the upstream projects under their own names, on company time, using corporate resources with approval.

Xandros is not targeting the open source community as its market, so the accrual of geekpoints isn't a benefit to the corporation, and neither is ongoing support of open source contributions for non-paying customers. It's a business with a viable business model, not a charity with a vision.

I'm making this statement as a Xandros insider, one who has made my share of (ongoing) open source contributions.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 01:11 AM
I also rename the apps on users' desktops. I
have a few accounts on my home machine for
people who are mostly Windows users. To
make their first steps into Linux a tad
easier, I change gaim to Messenger Chat, Firefox
to Web Browser, xmms to Music Player.
Basically, I change the names from nouns
to verbs. The handful of people I've introduced
to Linux this way find it easier to find a
tool named after what they want to do, rather than remember a name.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 06:58 AM
So THAT's why sometimes someone calls me and they don't even know what the name of the program they are having problems running is! Thanks a lot for making my job difficult!


Xandros Open Client Edition

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 01:34 AM
Xandros also offers an 'Open Circulation Edition' which can be <a href="" title="">downloaded</a> at no cost. I am not a Xandros user but the open circulation edition might be a good place for Windows refugees to kick the GNU/Linux tires.


Re:Xandros Open Client Edition

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 11:42 AM
The Xandros Open Circulation Edition is Version 3.2--so far the new Version 4.0 is not available in a free version. 3.2 is a good distro (I have used it for about 6 months) but I wish they would release an open edition of 4.0.


Re:Xandros Open Client Edition

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 05:57 AM
Regarding the implication that Xandros activation is using something similar to Windows Genuine Advantage is hogwash! WGA is intrusive - collecting SW and HW information and 'phoning home' with it on a regular basis.

Xandros does nothing like that at all.. it merely wants to make sure you are an actual Xandros user with a valid email address in order to use its free network service for downloading free software and updates. Nothing more nothing less. If you want to protect your 'real' email address - just use a fake account like yahoo or hotmail like everyone else does.

It took me all of a minute and a half to register and activate my Xandros Networks service - no problems at all.

I have seen this poster 'trolling' on other sites with this same nonsense about activation in hopes of stirring up controversey - and hopefully seeing they're name in lights! So be warned!

- and NO I am not going to reply to Pollycats endless rantings (I suspect he is not even an Xandros4 user)


Re:Xandros Open Client Edition

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 08:45 PM
Actually, what Pollycat wrote sounds very reasonable and level-headed while you just sound like an angry fanboi out to attack somebody who doesn't share your liking for your distro. Chill out, man!<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

Whatever<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... I wouldn't trust activation in any shape or form, even a watered down version like you describe.


Re:Xandros Open Client Edition

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 09:07 PM
Sounds like you're the one doing the ranting lol


Distro of a different path

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 08, 2006 10:37 PM
It's quite interesting to know that Xandros had gone into a different path.

There is another distro worth mentioning here, Tomahawk Desktop ( which also has gone on a unique path.

It seems that free distros such as Ubuntu are in the version number war and cannot offer important features require for desktop users.


Re:Distro of a different path

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2006 03:21 PM
"There is another distro worth mentioning here, Tomahawk Desktop ( which also has gone on a unique path."

Oh really? Howso? by putting a very restrictive license on a CD full of open source apps?


Oh, I see. You're just spamming to advertise your unsuccessful commercial distro. Nice touch, vaguely accusing a very successful distro of not offering important features.


Sleeping with the devil

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 04:26 AM
Maybe this distribution is good for some people.
But not for me.

Going from Windows to Linspire is going from one slave master to another, and Xandros dont sound much better...

But if it can help some people move from Windows to Linux, then I guess it is good in some way...


Re:Sleeping with the devil

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 09:38 AM
Now I'm not a big fan of Linspire, there's lots of room for improvement there, but it seems to me their attitude is much better than that of Xandros. Linspire has no "activation" that I know of, in fact the basic "family" license allows for installation on multiple computers and their redistribution policy seems much more in the F/OSS spirit (if you alter and redistribute, just don't call it Linspire).


Re:Sleeping with the devil

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 10:41 AM
I purchased Xandros about 3 weeks ago. I like it. I used many of the free distros: Mepis, Ubuntu, Suse and many more. I just installed Xandros on my Dads pc, it was a good transition from M$ to Linux. I think I can get many others to make the switch as well. Its a good bridge.


Re:Sleeping with the devil

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 08:50 PM
Yes, PCLinuxOS is also a good distro. for new folks and best of all it's free of charge.


Re:Product Activation

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2006 07:00 AM
For those of us like me who routinely screw up their machines by excessive experimentation, this 10-time activation limit is worth remembering...


Product Activation

Posted by: Administrator on July 08, 2006 09:33 AM

A very good and balanced review, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of this release. Thanks for this.

Some more information on the "activation" process you mentioned. As you correctly said, users are required to activate their product in order to unlock the functionality of Xandros Networks, this comes disabled out of the box and remains disabled until you activate the product.

Xandros Networks is needed to receive critical product and security updates from Xandros, especially for their proprietary applications like the Xandros File Manager which only they can safely update. Without access to Xandros Networks, users can still update their system using apt-get and other sources but may risk breaking some of the Xandros-specific customizations and closed-source applications.

The activation code you receive is good for 10 installs - each new install (either on the same machine or different machines) requires a new activation. After 10 installs, users will be denied further activations until they contact Xandros Support and assure them that they are a legitimate user.

Xandros is implementing this feature primarily to prevent revenue loss through product piracy and unauthorized use of its download servers.

While there are good reasons for Xandros to introduce this activation feature, one reason many people turn to Linux is because of dislike for schemes such as "activation" and "genuine advantage", which often disadvantage the honest user (as the reviewer here noted, the activation process in Xandros was not entirely straightforward and required assistance from Xandros Support). It remains to be seen whether current and potential Linux users will embrace or reject the introduction of such features in to a Linux product.


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