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My Linux Desktop Odyssey, 2004
by Michael Barnes (Mar. 11, 2004)

Michael C. Barnes updates his in-depth review of Linux desktop operating systems. In this exclusive article at, Barnes examines how far the Linux distributions have come over the past year, updating his popular first article and evaluating the current versions of leading Desktop Linux desktop options including Ark Linux, ELX Linux, Lycoris, MEPHIS, Vector Linux, Xandros, as well as Live CDs including Puppy Linux and Flonix . . .

Last year, I wrote an article about the state of desktop operating systems where I compared Microsoft Windows and various Linux distributions. At that time, I concluded that if cost is not considered, Microsoft XP was the best desktop operating system for business. I also stated that most Linux desktops distributions were better than Windows 98. Windows 98's one advantage was that it worked on a 32 MB 133 Mhz computer with only 1 GB. At the time, I was unable to find any featured desktop Linux that would run on such a modest configuration.

Vector Linux, was the first fully featured Linux that I tested that ran very well on modestly configured computers. Vector Linux is a full blown workhorse distribution. Vector Linux can be expanded to be a complete and fully featured desktop distribution.

VectorLinux is a very powerful but lightweight Linux

There are now several other modest distributions to choose from that can provide a complete environment on even smaller systems. Puppy Linux, is the definitive example of a small Linux desktop. Puppy Linux is available as a live CD (meaning the OS boots directly off of a CD) or in a version that can be copied onto a pen disk or other flash disk. Puppy is unique because all the applications and the OS load into RAM. This has the disadvantage of a longer boot time, but the advantage of blazing fast operation. It is simply amazing how much utility is available on Puppy.

Flonix is another hyper-small Linux desktop distribution. Flonix is based on Damnsmall Linux that is based on Knoppix which is based on Debian. Knoppix is responsible for some of the best work done in Linux today. Many developers have used Knoppix as the foundation to distribute specialized Linux distributions. Flonix is such a distribution.

Flonix is ultra small, but it has a lot of flare. Flonix is a complete desktop that is also small enough to fit in a pen drive or boot off a business card sized CD ROM. Flonix can download additional applications. This gives the user a great deal of control over the final product. Flonix also features a full multimedia playback system. Flonix is small enough to download even using a dial-up modem. Flonix supports wireless modems, and ADSL; has an integrated firewall; and a built-in utility for motion detection so you can easily set up a security system.

Except for Vector Linux, these smaller distributions are not really replacements for Windows 98. They are however, ideal starting points to create a complete solution that runs out of Flash or a way to put a very old computer back to work.

Taking on Microsoft Windows 98 on the desktop is one thing, but taking on Windows XP is quite another. Microsoft XP is a magnificent piece of work. We have all heard the arguments about viruses and the arguments about costs. Microsoft Windows XP will certainly run on 100% of the new computers on the market and it will support 100% of the new peripherals made for computers. No Linux distribution can make this promise.

It is also possible to run most major Open Source applications on Microsoft Windows XP. Open Office, GIMP, Mozilla, and many other Open Source applications are available for Microsoft Windows XP. A very good starting place for Open Source software for Microsoft Windows is TheOpenCD. A copy of Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition and the software contained on TheOpenCD is another way inexpensively introduce Open Source.

Linux does have advantages over Microsoft XP. Linux is more secure and it requires less resources than Microsoft XP. Linux distributions also allow for faster installs as most distributions install the applications as well as the operating system. The best of the Linux distributions preconfigure everything for the user.

I own a laptop that is particularly Linux hostile. The laptop uses an integrated SiS chip and few Linux distributions want to support all the features in the chip. My desktop rejected almost all the Linux distributions I tried to install. Redhat based distributions turned the LCD screen white. I was able to complete the install using the command expert vga=0x310. Slackware distributions such as College Linux, Vector and Slax had no problem. Debian wouldn't install nor would SuSE. Knoppix based install required that I use a kernal without USB support.

My desktop computer was far easier to support except for the VIA based audio chip which was hit and miss. Once again, Slackware based distributions were the most dependable. Knoppix based distributions worked except for sound.

My laptop worked without a hitch with Lycoris Desktop LX/3, Vector Linux and ELX BizDesk 4.0, so long as I used the expert vga=0x310 command to get things started. In the end, I decided to use ELX BizDesk 4.0. Xandros 2.0 installed on my desktop without any problems but would not install on my laptop.

None of the distributions that I tested convinced me that if money were no object, desktop Linuxes can replace Micorsoft XP as the best operating system for the desktop. If money is a factor, there are some desktop operating systems that are standouts. It should not be surprising that the distributions I liked last year are the same distributions I like this year.

Lycoris has a very familiar look and feel for Microsoft Windows XP users

Last year, I gave Lycoris a bad review. I thought that given it was a commercial product, it was not complete enough and I encountered problems installing it on several systems. In one case, the OS crashed because there was no floppy. I gave up on Lycoris but I did order the latest version version which is Update 3.0.

Lycoris is a very good looking desktop. The look is strongly influenced by Microsoft XP but the execution is more refined. From a users point of view, Lycoris is probably one of the friendliest Linux distributions available. The new version installed without a hitch and did a very good job of recognizing hardware. It is very frustrating trying to match the right Linux distribution to a specific hardware configuration. I do not understand why some distributions such as Lyrocis or Slackware based distributions seem not to have any problems while other distributions won't work at all. Lycoris installed on every system I tested without a hitch. I do not know why Lycoris does not install Open Office by default. It is easy to install Open Office but it would be nice if it were included as part of the standard install.

Slackware, Arch Linux, and distributions based on Slackware installed easily on my Linux hostile laptop. None of the Slackware based distributions installed as easily as Lycoris.

After installing Lycoris, I was once against confronted with a Linux distribution which was much more sparse than what I would want. However, I had to consider for a moment that I am not the target user for Lycoris. Lycoris can be the foundation for building a very strong distribution. Lycoris teamed with Codeweavers' Crossover Office would be an excellent upgrade for users moving off of Windows 98. Adding Open Office to Lycoris increases its functionality quite a bit.

If you are the type of person who is turned off that Lycoris is still based on KDE 2.2, then this is not your distribution. If you have no idea what KDE is, then Lycoris is probably the right distribution for you.

I have changed my mind on Lycoris. Lycoris is probably a better candidate for “My First OS” than “My First Linux”. Lycoris should be considered on its own rather than being compared to other Linux distributions. Lycoris is the the operating system I would put on a computer for my grandmother.

There are two commercial distributions that stood out in my previous evaluation. These were Xandros and ELX. I believe that these remain the best two choices. Each is different and each is targeted to a different class of users.

Xandros Desktop OS version 2 is a beautiful distribution. While Lycoris's look and feel is based on Microsoft XP, Xandros has its own look and I like the look better than Microsoft XP. Xandros' file manager remains the very best Linux file manager. I purchased the deluxe edition of Xandros. The deluxe edition includes Codeweavers' Crossover Office and Crossover Plugin. These two programs are well worth having. I purchased Crossover Office primarily to add Internet Explorer and Microsoft Media Player to my Linux distribution. I have tested all of the supported applications, that include Micosoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Visio. All of these applications and more work fine. Codeweavers' Crossover Office and Crossover Plugin are available separately and it will work on virtually any Linux distribution.

Xandros has much going for it. The look of the install is the only Linux distribution, other than Lycoris, where I don't go directly to and start changing out the icons, desktop background and theme. Xandros look great just the way it is.

Xandros is among the best Linux distributions for the desktop

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