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Xandros 1.0: Easy on the eyes, easy to install

Sample version of Xandros 1.0 tests well in this installation exhibition game

(LinuxWorld) — A couple of weeks ago, I took a second look at Knoppix and how it could be used to do a quick Debian install. Warts and all, the Knoppix install script provides a quick and dirty way for experienced Linux users to have Debian installed without suffering from what can be a psyche-bruising experience. It seems there are a number of distributions interested in doing the same thing.

According to DistroWatch.com, 12 of the 105 distributions they are currently tracking are Debian-based. That dozen includes Knoppix, Lindows, Libranet and Xandros. This week we're going to look at Xandros, the successor to Corel Linux, which has recently released its 1.0 version.

A brief history of Xandros

Corel needed a cash infusion a couple of years ago. After receiving it in the form of a $150 million dollar investment by Microsoft, they announced they were getting out of the Linux business. Whether that was a coincidence is left as an exercise for the reader. But if nothing else, it was certainly representative of the way Redmond did business before the "tough-but-fair" settlement of their antitrust case.

Like Corel Linux before it, Xandros is based on Debian. And Debian, the favorite of many hard-core Linuxites, has a user base that scoffs at those who can't recite the biometrics trivia of each hardware component of their PC. Xandros hides all that from you. It is aimed squarely at the neophyte: the wannabe Linux user who is currently running Windows. If you'll recall, that's the same audience Corel was targeting before deciding the future was elsewhere. It should come as no surprise to learn that Ming Poon, Xandros' VP of Software Development, was also head man at Corel Linux.

According to their PR person, the name is a combination of X and Andros; X as in the windowing system and Andros as in the Greek island named for the divine hero who settled there. Ming Poon noted that they like to think of Xandros as being the start of a new desktop model. Not to be outdone, Michael Bego (VP of Sales and Marketing) observed that the X also applies to customers, as in ex-Windows users.

Installing Xandros

I should note that the version of Xandros that I have installed is a sample of the shipping product, not an actual boxed set. However, I'm told it is identical except for the packaging. I started the install with my trusted Sony Vaio PCG-XG700K notebook configured as before, except for one missing peripheral. All partitions had been removed from the hard drive and a Netgear PCMCIA NIC was inserted and connected to my hub. The missing device was the IBM USB PC Camera.

The Xandros logo appeared near the bottom of the screen soon after booting from the CD. Seconds later, a few lines of text advisories appeared at the top. This was not the normal fast scrolling text I'm used to seeing at boot time. I was informed that Xandros was preparing a graphical setup, that it was loading the kernel, and that it was initializing the kernel. Next, I watched as a few more lines informed me that Xandros was searching for modules and for the Xandros CD, which it promptly found. Not as informative as a "normal" Linux boot, but not as intimidating for the newbie either.

Then Xandros went into a "detecting hardware" phase. For almost a minute, nothing else happened. This is normally the spot in an OS install where I complain that you can't tell if the install is hung up or if it's still running. Not this time. The Xandros logo and eyecandy near the bottom of the screen includes small globes that blink on and off. A nice touch providing visual feedback to the user that it's still working.

About two minutes into the install the CD drive spun up again and the screen went dark. A moment or so later a cursor began to blink, and a few seconds later the Xandros Installation Wizard appeared. Susan, my sidekick in parts one through three of my installation comparison, would approve. It is very "pretty" compared to the beginning of the Red Hat 8.0 install. How "pretty" is it? It is the nicest I've seen in a Linux install, bar none.

I clicked on Next, and a warning to read the license agreement prior to using Xandros appeared. Among other things, the agreement said, "Many of the software programs included in Xandros desktop are distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License in addition... some versions of Xandros Desktop may also include certain software programs that are not distributed under the terms of the GPL or similar licenses." You have to click on "I accept this agreement" in order to proceed.

The second click was to choose between a Custom or Express installation. In keeping with the previous installations, I selected the Express to get default choices for as much as I could.

Then a screen appeared asking me to enter an Admin password. Not root, mind you, but admin. Clearly geared to the Windows user. Next I was asked for a computer name, a user name and a password.

At this point, Xandros had about all the information it needed to perform the installation. It presented a Summary Screen that explained I was going to do "TAKE OVER DISK." It also warned that proceeding would destroy any data existing on the drive. I was also informed of the disk and boot manager details and that my software selection was the "Standard Desktop." As for networking, the summary screen gave me a scare by saying "No Network Interfaces."

Effective infomercials

The third click began the actual installation process. The infomercial screens that appear during the install are even better done than the initial screen. They are all visually attractive. I'm sure Susan would approve. The message they carry is about the Xandros desktop being built atop the K desktop environment and the Debian project.

In fact, it is one of these infomercials that relieved my worry about the missing network configuration. It informed me that a "First Run Wizard" will appear after the installation wizard is finished, and that it will configure not just the look and feel of the desktop, but the network and printers as well.

Another infomercial told me that the Xandros file manager will let me treat USB storage devices and ftp sites the same as a local Linux or Windows partition. Interesting. This is not the Konqueror — the KDE file manager — but Xandros's own creation.

Finally, about 21 minutes into the process, the install phase completes. I am asked to choose between creating a boot disk or restarting, and without a floppy drive, I choose to restart. Then I was told to remove the Xandros CD and press Enter to continue.

When I did, the screen went dark briefly and a new one appeared with only three lines of text in a huge font size to present my choices: the standard Xandros Desktop is the default, Safe Video is the second choice and Configure is the third. The second choice echoes a similar option under Windows. The third is flagged as being for expert users.

I chose the standard desktop, and the system rebooted. The boot sequence was almost identical to the initial boot from CD. A couple of new lines about the root file system and other file systems appeared. The globes kept blinking on and off during hardware detection.

Instead of starting an install wizard this time, a login window appeared and I signed in. Xandros started KDE, and as soon as the fanfare had sounded marking the completion of its loading, the First Time wizard appeared.

Setting up a network on Xandros

Editors look at Xandros 1.0
The editors installed Xandros 1.0 on a decrepit Pentium II 266-MHz sporting 128 megabytes of RAM because (1) we wanted to stress-test Xandros informally on a slow machine to see how efficiently it could perform, and (2) it was the only PC we had available at the time.

Joe Barr covered the installation well in the surrounding story, so we won't repeat what he said except to say we had the same experience with getting networking started.

We focused on the CodeWeavers CrossOver Office implementation of WINE that's installed by default with Xandros. This is a great idea other Linux providers should consider. We installed the Office 2000 suite and then went to the Microsoft page to update to Office's Service Pack 1. In our limited testing, we found Office 2000 SP1 worked on Xandros as well as it works on a native Windows machine. Performance was acceptable, which is a remarkable feat considering the hardware we subjected Xandros and Office to. We did not try to run other Windows software with CrossOver Office.

We used the CodeWeavers CrossOver Plugin software to install Windows browser plugins in our Linux version of Mozilla. This took more time than we would have liked (perhaps this was a reflection of our feeble hardware), but the plugins worked fine.

Xandros costs $100, which is pricey compared to Red Hat's $40 Personal edition and Mandrake's $30 Standard edition. However, considering the retail price of CrossOver Office is $55, and add another $25 for CrossOver Plugin, Xandros falls in line with the prices of its established competitors.

The wizard took me through a series of questions concerning desktop appearance first: do I use my right or left hand to move the mouse, my locale, character set, and date and time. Then it came time to do the network. The wizard said, "IT SEEMS YOU ARE NOT CURRENTLY CONNECTED TO A NETWORK. PLEASE PRESS CONNECTION WIZARD TO CREATE A NEW NETWORK CONNECTION."

That click brought up yet another wizard, the connection wizard. It wanted to know how I would be connecting: via a LAN, ADSL modem, dialup modem or a direct computer-to-computer cable. I selected LAN and then clicked on Next.

The wizard asked who would be using the connection, and I selected "ALL USERS." Then it presented a list of all the Ethernet devices it found and asked which I would be using. Eth0 — my Netgear PCMCIA card — was the only choice.

Then it asked what I wanted to call the connection, what the host name was and whether or not I would be using DHCP. I told the wizard to launch the connection when it was finished and then clicked Finish.

That brought up a "Connect to the Internet" window, which listed the connection name that I had just provided. Obviously, it is intended to be able to handle multiple connections and easily switch back and forth between them. There is a place to enter a DHCP hostname if required. I selected the only choice, and another window with connection statistics appeared very briefly, then disappeared.

This led to the only bit of confusion I experienced in the entire installation. The original window, which had informed me that I was not connected to the Internet, was now visible again, so I wasn't sure if I was connected or not. I opened Mozilla to see if I could reach LinuxWorld.com. It worked.

I accepted all the default system behaviors and windows decorations and then continued to the Xandros registration process. Because I was using a sample version, I didn't have a registration code and couldn't register. However, there was an option for registering if Xandros had been preloaded on the computer, and it didn't require a registration code. I tried that. Thirty-four minutes into the effort, Xandros was installed on the Sony and I was registered. However, my attempt to update the system with bug-fixes and security patches failed. When I asked Xandros about the error, they said there were no updates yet available and that was why I was getting the error message.

Since I was using a "sample" of Xandros, didn't have the USB camera available and had no update process to quantify, I won't try to include this Xandros installation in the ongoing "Linux Installation Shootout" series. I will say that the install was quick and easy, and it's yet another Linux distribution that installs more easily than Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

Xandros has a number of other major features that I don't touch on here: the ability to run Microsoft Office 2000, courtesy of CodeWeavers-enhanced WINE; ease of interoperability with Windows print; file-sharing on the LAN. I won't be writing about those things in future weeks because I am an "MS-free" kind of guy, but I recommend that if those features are important to you, you should give Xandros a whirl. You're the person Xandros is designed for.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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