Xandros a painless version of Linux

Review: Overall, the operating system is rock solid - and a bargain for older PCs.

March 25, 2004|By Lou Dolinar | Lou Dolinar,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

I keep a museum-quality collection of PCs around my house. Motherboards, graphic cards, memory, disks and so on are frequently upgraded, swapped and replaced. Processors range from a 450 MHz Celeron to the 1.2 MHz Pentium on my laptop, and various releases of Windows. I hesitate to call my collection typical of the computing world in general, but it probably is typical of some home users.

About a year and a half ago, I installed the first release of Xandros Linux on this grungy menagerie. Or tried to. As I recall, one installation worked out of the box, another after about a half-day of fiddling. The other computers wouldn't run Linux at all, apparently because the drivers that came with Xandros didn't support the hardware.

Not bad, I thought. The functioning installations were faster and more stable than the Windows versions they replaced. A geek's delight, but not quite ready for normal people.

Cut to roughly six months ago and a second shot with Xandros Linux 1.1. I've had worse problems with Windows upgrades.

I got Linux onto all four systems in a single morning, without a hitch. Average installation time: less than an hour. Networking and Internet hookups in particular were good - I usually have to wade into Windows manually to get a new PC to work on my home network, but these guys located the network card, installed the software and drivers, and set themselves up with IP addresses from the router automatically.

Sharing disks to my PC collection was transparently simple.

Judging from my own experience, and from the reviews I've read, Xandros is the way to go if you're looking for a painless (but not free) version of Linux and a complete suite of Linux software.

The basic package (now up to version 2.0, which is even spiffier than the one I started with) costs $39.95 for an all-Linux system that includes an Open Office, a Microsoft Office-style applications package (word processor, spreadsheet, database, graphics) and pretty much everything else you'd get with a top-of-the-line Windows PC.

The $89 deluxe edition adds a printed manual and the ability to install it alongside an existing Windows XP version. It also includes Codeweavers Crossover Office, which lets you install Microsoft Office 2000 and pretend you're running Windows.

Finally, at $129, there's a business edition that includes networking features to make it play well with others, and a commercial applications package that includes real tech support from Sun Microsystems.

Depending on how you slice the salami, Microsoft's versions of the above start out at roughly $90, for an upgrade version of Windows XP with no applications, to upwards of $500 for a full version of Windows XP professional and Office 2003. If you need an operating system for an older PC, or a new one you've built from scratch, Xandros Linux is a bargain.

What does Xandros Linux look like? Pretty much anything you want. The graphical user interface is largely independent of the underlying operating system; indeed, one of the great charms and efficiencies of Linux is that it can be run without a GUI, from a command line interface.

Most probably will prefer the Windows look. Instead of a Start button, you get a "Launch" button, but otherwise the file manager and usual desktop icons and task bar hew fairly closely to the Microsoft models on which they are based. With the basic applications that come with Xandros Linux, the learning curve is practically nonexistent.

Overall, the operating system is rock solid and crash-free. Security is excellent because most viruses, worms, spyware and adware are written for Windows, and thus, won't run on it.

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