by Brad Rodriguez, 13 Jan 2004
Having decided that Xandros Linux was the ideal choice for my wife's computer, I decided to wait for the December 2003 release of Xandros 2. It was worth the wait...even though there were a few pitfalls.
My first idea was to install Xandros as a dual-boot system in her Windows 98 box. I added 128 MB of RAM (for a total of 192 MB) and a second 6 GB hard drive for Xandros, since her existing 4 GB drive is full. Then I inserted the Xandros CD and rebooted. No luck...the video card wasn't properly detected. After stepping through the eight different boot video options described in the Xandros troubleshooting guide, I got it to work by booting to text mode and then typing 'startx'. That worked fine. A little work on video card detection is needed here, but to their credit, Xandros offers several troubleshooting options including text mode.
This time I kept count: a Custom Install for a dual boot system asks a total of eleven questions (including "Accept" on the license terms, but counting all of my static IP data as one question). The Win98 drive was detected, as was my older Ethernet card and CD-writer...but not my sound card. A visit to the Xandros web site revealed that they only detect PCI sound cards, not the older ISAPnP card I was using. I thought about downloading and installing drivers, but I had a spare PCI sound card on hand, so I just installed that. This worked right away.
I'm happy to report that Eudora 6 installed easily under CrossOver Office. But when I went to install the "supported application" Word 97, it got as far as the Microsoft splash screen and wouldn't go any farther. A query on the Xandros user forum got a quick reponse: ignore the CrossOver install menu, and just execute the CD-ROM's Setup.exe from the File Manager. There must be something odd about the new release of CrossOver Office (2.1), because the CrossOver install worked perfectly under Xandros 1 with CrossOver 1.3.
Alas, even with 192 MB of RAM, a Celeron 300 -- equivalent to a 200 MHz Pentium -- is just too damn slow. Eudora was glacial, and even the native Mozilla was painful to use. The sad fact is, Xandros isn't fast enough for "legacy" hardware.
After a few queries to the Xandros forum about how to speed things up, I decided the best solution would be to upgrade the computer. A quick trip to Factory Direct yielded a refurbished HP with a 1.6 GHz Athlon and 256 MB of RAM. And on this machine, there was no fuss about video -- the Xandros CD booted and went straight through the installation process with nary a glitch. (Since this was a brand new machine, I didn't bother with dual boot, but I did make some partitions on the hard disk for future use. Happily, the Xandros installer lets you manually partition if you so desire.)
On a whim I had plugged her HP 5300C scanner into the USB port. I've never used USB under Linux, but I figured what the hell, it was worth a try. To my amazement, it was detected correctly! Xandros also detected that this box has a winmodem, and when I went to configure a dial-up connection, it offered to install the appropriate driver software...and this worked perfectly the first time! (I admit it may be pure luck that this box has a supported winmodem.) And yes, the sound system was detected, as was an old 3C900B PCI Ethernet card.
All the software installation went smoothly (now that I know how to install MS Office). I had to visit the mozilla.org site to learn how to transfer my wife's Netscape profile over to Mozilla, but that's easily done once you read the FAQ. She now has a Linux box that's configured to work just like her old Win98 box, with all her old files, and with all her favorite applications.
One of the big changes from Xandros 1 to 2 is that the 'Xandros Update' package manager utility has been merged into "Xandros Networks." It's clear to me -- having seen both systems -- that this is Xandros' version of the Lindows "Click'n'Run." When you launch Xandros Networks, it connects to their server and downloads a list of applications you can install. You're presented a menu tree including "Installed Applications," "New Applications," "Application Updates," and "Shop." One very nice feature is that the Application Updates page displays "Critical" and "Security" updates that you should download for your system...rather like Windows Update, but with a much shorter list of packages. (On the downside, I need to download 60 MB worth of updates to get the Debian kernel security fix. Ouch.)
New Applications are displayed in a menu that parallels the Launch->Applications menu. When you select an application, a brief description of it appears in another panel...and then a single click on the "Install" button will download the application, install it, and add it to the Launch menu. This is so like Lindows...and so easy to use. (I think Xandros actually has a cleaner user interface.) Also like Lindows, Xandros is starting to sell non-free applications, like Opera, in the "Shop" category. This is still in its infancy, but certainly deserves to be encouraged.
You can also elect to install packages from the supplied CD-ROMs, or from other servers (such as the Debian project server). I haven't tried loading from Debian, but I did load the scanner program from the CD-ROM. (This isn't installed by default.) This procedure is not entirely obvious; you need to read the manual to learn how to change package sources. It's clear that their favored procedure is for users to download from their server...but for dial-up users like me, the CD-ROM is a blessing.
Some other changes from Xandros 1 to 2: the Archiver, FTP and CD-Writer (X-CD-Roast) applications are gone. These functions have been merged into the file manager. I'm of mixed feelings about this. It should be lovely to be able to copy files via FTP the same as local files. But this feature is badly documented (I had to read the Xandros forum) and somewhat limited (you cannot chmod a remote file). Many Xandros users seem to be installing gFTP.
The CD Writer application strongly resembles Windows programs like Adaptec's Easy CD Creator. It's much easier to use than X-CD-Roast, but with somewhat less flexibility. A good choice for new users, but "power" CD-R users may feel limited.
When using Windows I was happy to be able to ZIP (or TAR) files by selecting them in the file manager and then right clicking, or to expand an archive by double-clicking it. I think I'm going to like this feature of the Xandros file manager (they do seem to be catering to ex-Windows users).
Xandros 2 is also using the CUPS printing system. I'm happy to report it configured correctly for our Deskjet 612c right away.
The upshot: Xandros 2 can easily replace Windows 98. (I've never used Win ME, 2000, or XP, so I can't compare them.) In every category -- OS installation, hardware detection, application program installation, and system maintenance -- I think Xandros is easier to use. Support for older hardware is bothersome, and you'll need a faster CPU and more RAM than Win98 requires, but support for newer hardware may actually be better (I'm thinking of our USB devices here). Certainly for the forseeable future, Linux will lag behind Windows in device drivers; but not far behind...the fact that Xandros could auto-configure flawlessly for a stock HP computer is truly impressive.
If you have a recent computer -- say, 800 MHz or faster -- and you need an 'easy' desktop Linux, Xandros 2 would be an excellent choice.