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Xandros on the Desktop Means Business

A talk with Dr. Frederick H. Berenstein, director of Xandros, Inc.

With a new business desktop, a "Best Front Office Solution" award, and an expanding product line, things are looking good for Xandros. LWM Editor-in-Chief Kevin Bedell spoke with Dr. Frederick H. Berenstein at LinuxWorld Expo; here he shares the history of Xandros and, more important, what he sees in the future.

LWM: So, Frederick, tell us a little bit about Xandros and where it came from.
Xandros originally came from the acquisition of the former Corel Linux Business Division by a group of investors called Linux Global Partners. That took place in 2001, and it was sort of the last major acquisition that Linux Global Partners did after they invested in and started some of the best-known companies in the Linux world today. For instance, Linux Global Partners started Ximian, which was sold to Novell this past summer, and Linux Global Partners also started CodeWeavers, which is famous for the CrossOver Office applications.

LWM: That's pretty interesting; I hadn't realized they were involved in those other projects. So you acquired what had been the Linux group from Corel - what was the motivation behind that?
When Linux Global Partners was originally started, our idea was that in order to make a viable alternative to the Windows desktop we would need to invest in the technologies and applications that we felt were essential for people using a desktop on a day-to-day basis. Our ultimate idea at that point, that was 1998, was that at sometime in the future we would take all of these applications and technologies, and go to one of the major distributors and say, "Let's do a joint venture - your distribution, our applications." But what happened was Corel came out with an award-winning Linux desktop, and after a year of very successful selling, they came to us and said, "Let's do a joint venture." Along the way Corel ran into some financial difficulties; they took an investment from Microsoft and decided to divest themselves of the Linux Business Division, which gave us the opportunity to acquire a distribution rather than do a joint venture. After that acquisition, we renamed the company Xandros, and that's how Xandros was born.

LWM: There are so many distributions - how would you position Xandros among the different distributions available today?
I think of the commercially viable distributions, the real difference is that Xandros has an extended business plan that is logically thought out. We started with the consumer market, precisely because the consumer is in one or another way the most demanding user. He's the most dependent; he needs to have things done mostly for him. We wanted a proof-of-concept that if we put out a desktop that was easy to install, totally familiar to Windows users, and totally compatible with Microsoft files, that people would simply be able to install it and go back to work. This has garnered reviews from people saying about our 1.0 product, "It just works." Everything works right out of the box. About our 2.0 product we got a review yesterday that said "If you're coming from Windows to Linux, this is the distro to buy. It's that good." So we felt that if we could make that proof-of-concept, which is what we've basically spent the first year and a half doing, we would then move on in our logical chain to enterprise products.

We announced today the Xandros Business Desktop and the Xandros Desktop Management Server, or xDMS. We have further plans down the road obviously for server products. There's a logical progression here. I think the other major distributions primarily started off saying, "Let's go after the server market, it's the low-hanging fruit," and that's why they're there. Now they're having second thoughts and saying, "Well, maybe we should do a desktop." It's not because it was thought out that way from the beginning, but simply because it seems to suddenly be a very big and appealing market.

LWM: I've also heard wonderful reviews from people who have used the product. I understand that one of its real strong points is how Windows applications or Windows files can still be used within the Xandros distribution. Can you comment a little on that? Was it a conscious decision?
That was a very conscious decision. Right at the beginning, and several years before Xandros became Xandros, the philosophy that I and Will Rosen, my partner at Linux Global Partners, had adopted was this: the position that other Linux companies were taking at the time of "We're going to give you Linux; it's so much more stable; it's so much more secure; you'll learn how to do things our way and you'll love it," was the wrong way to go.

You have to be realistic and realize that no matter what you're doing, you're selling into a Windows world. Every article about PCs always says Microsoft has 92% of the market, 94% of the market - it's always over 90%, and so the reality is that you're selling into a Windows world. Everybody out there is using a box with Windows on it. So when 1.0 came out it was, amazingly, the only distribution in 2001 that had automatic domain authentication against Microsoft servers. With every other distribution, even if they would allow you to recognize it through one technology or another, you had to go in each time; you had to identify yourself; and you had to authenticate yourself. But the Xandros 1.0 product did automatic domain authentication. Similarly, when 1.1 came out last April very quietly in response to our corporate customers, it was the only Linux distribution - and it's possibly the only one today - that had automatic support for Active Directory Servers. And our feeling is that anybody who doesn't offer those things is pretending that they're not selling into a Windows world. We know we're selling into a Windows world.

As far as support for Microsoft Office files, we put that capability in as well as the ability to install Microsoft Office directly on the Xandros desktop because, at least for the foreseeable future, those are the applications that a lot of people use. Those are the applications where they have 10 or 12 years of data files in Word format and in Excel format, and those are the files that they cannot lose and don't have time to change to some other format. They can't afford to filter them through some other application, with the result being that they sort of get the document but maybe the formatting doesn't come out right, or maybe the macros don't work. They have to just be able to put in the Xandros desktop and go back to work. So it was a very conscious decision.

LWM: So where is Xandros at today - what do you have going on now, and what do you see happening over the next 12 months?
Just on behalf of all the developers we have, the most important thing that's happened in the last day is that we won the "Best Front Office Solution" award here at LinuxWorld Expo. It was a real tribute to the men we have working up in Canada and to their managers; all of them are down here at the show. As far as the future goes, we have announced today the Xandros Business Desktop; we announced xDMS, which is Xandros' wide area deployment manager for enterprises, and we also announced a little bit of the future in terms of thin clients and future server products. We're basically growing our product line as we see that the way we've done things has been successful for consumers, who are the most needy and the most dependent. We're now growing the product line out so that ultimately Xandros will provide an end-to-end solution for every type of user.

LWM: What's the idea behind the Business Desktop? Does it have remote management, remote deployment of applications, remote control of policies? How does that all work?
The Business Desktop includes a variety of features in terms of operating within a mixed network environment that aren't in the Deluxe or Standard versions. The wide area deployment and enterprise management tools are going to be a separate xDMS product that you can schedule to run, for example, every day at midnight. Actually, in the Xandros management server you can make a perfect PC protocol, take a snapshot of it, and deploy that over any number of servers in a network, any number of hosts, or any group of hosts. You can also define specifically, "Okay, this is the perfect arrangement for people who are doing word processing all day; this is the perfect arrangement for people in the accounting department." And you just deploy those specific systems that you've put together to those specific PCs. With the remote management control, for instance, on Xandros networks if you go in and there are security patches or kernel updates, they're automatically downloaded and installed. You can download these things to the management server and you can schedule this - for example, every day at midnight. If there are any critical patches or kernel patches, you can simply apply them to all the PCs that are attached to the management server. So it has very powerful wide area deployment tools and very powerful remote management tools.

LWM: It sounds like you're really listening to the corporate users and trying to provide tools for them to manage whole departments. What's in store for the future?
I think what's going to be in store for the future is continued growth of Linux both on the server side and on the desktop side. I think everybody is kind of familiar with Linux's astronomical growth on the server side - from about 2% of the server market to almost 30% of the server market. And that's basically been based on a CAGR [Compounded Annual Growth Rate] of about 33%. Currently, the CAGR of Linux on the desktop is 44%, so I think what you're going to see is the kind of algorithmic deployment of Linux on both the desktop and the server over the next three to four years. It's going to go from a very small percentage to upwards of 40% on a global basis.

LWM: What industries or markets do you think are going to be the earliest adopters?
I think that governments, because of cost issues as well as security issues, are major Linux clients. Linux is a very cost-effective solution for computers in the school systems. As of this date, 24 countries have had national votes to wire their school systems to the Internet using Linux. So they're already going to have all these students sitting in front of boxes using Linux to do searches on the Internet, and it's a logical progression that they'll use Linux desktops and Linux applications to integrate those results into spreadsheets, reports, and things like that. I think that when you realize that supposedly there are 500 million PCs in use, and that the number of students represented by the 24 countries that have decided to do this is larger than that number, you realize that in 10 or 12 years you're going to have 600 or 700 million students who spent their entire school life in front of a Linux computer, not a Windows computer. I think that there's just astronomical growth and that it's going to be totally algorithmic from this point on.

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of Linux.SYS-CON.com, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

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