|Xandros 4: relief for Windows 98/ME orphans
Jul. 11, 2006
Opinion -- Today, July 11, is the day Microsoft is ending all support for Windows 98, 98SE, and ME. And, when they say ending all support, they mean ending all support: "Microsoft will end public and technical support by this date. This also includes security updates."
So, you can either start hauling your older systems to the junk yard after today's last Microsoft patch day, or you can upgrade to Xandros 4, the most Windows-friendly Linux desktop around.
Xandros 4 is the latest in a long series of Linux desktops dating back to Corel's 1999 Linux desktop. Xandros has come a long, long way since then.
Today, as three older members of the Windows family depart, Xandros is more than able to take up the needs of these, and other, Windows users. More so than almost any other Linux desktop, Xandros is designed to look and feel like Windows.
It starts with a KDE 3.42 desktop interface, with some enhancements to increase its Windows-like look and feel. In fact, you can, as I did, set it up to mirror a typical Windows environment and fool users into thinking they're actually using Windows.
This is helped, in no small measure, by the inclusion in the Home Premium Edition Xandros Desktop Linux 4.0 of CodeWeavers Inc.'s Crossover Office 5.03 Standard Edition. With CrossOver, you can run many popular Windows applications. For example, I was able to run Office 2000 and 2003, Quicken 2004, iTunes 5.01, and Macromedia Dreamweaver MX.
Can it run all Windows programs? No, it's not even close, but Crossover on Xandros can run many of the most commonly used one. It also makes it very easy to install and use Windows applications on Linux. In past combination packages of Crossover and a Linux distribution, it's been something of a chore getting the pairing to integrate.
That's not the case, here. For instance, if you want to install a Windows application, you just download or pop in its installation CD, and the system takes care of all the details. You could easily be fooled into thinking that you were installing a Windows application on a Windows system.
In addition, the Premium Edition of Xandros also comes with Versora Progression Desktop. This is a Windows to Linux migration tool.
It's a very handy tool that deserves a review in its own right. With it you can transfer such basic system settings as your wallpaper and screen saver to Linux, and, more importantly, your email and documents from, say, Outlook and Word, to Evolution or Thunderbird for email and OpenOffice.org 2 for your documents.
It's very, very handy. There are a few gotchas to keep an eye out for. For example, very complicated Office documents, such as macro-empowered Excel spreadsheets, are unlikely to make the transfer well. Still, I'd say 90 percent of users could move everything they have from Windows to Xandros and not lose anything of significance.
And, if transferring to OpenOffice.org doesn't provide enough compatibility for those Word and Excel files, you can still use MS Word and MS Excel on your Xandros system thanks to CrossOver Office.
It really is Linux, with a Debian body by way of the DCC Alliance and a 2.6.15 kernel heart, running everything, though. It both installs and runs so easily, though, that people who are sure that Linux is a nightmare to install will be amazed.
I installed Xandros on two systems. The first was an IBM T40 ThinkPad. This system is based on a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor with 1MB of L2 cache, and a 400MHz FSB (Front Side Bus). It has 512MB of DDR SDRAM memory, and a built-in ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 AGP 4x with 32MB of VRAM for graphics. For WiFi, my T40 uses the Intel PRO/Wireless LAN 2100 3B Mini PCI Adapter.
Xandros, unlike all the other distributions I tried recently -- MEPIS 6, OpenSUSE 10,1, and SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop 10 -- immediately found and set up the WiFi card without any need for me to lift a finger. I was impressed.
What Windows 98 and ME users may find far more interesting, though, is that I was also able to run Xandros reasonably well on a Compaq Deskpro EN Desktop with a 500MHz Pentium III, 128MB of RAM, and a 10GB hard drive.
Was it great? No, but Xandros ran as well as 98SE or ME ever ran on this six-year-old computer. XP? On this system? Forget about it!
This, more than anything else, is why I think any current 98 or ME user should look to Xandros. This Linux will just work on the system you're using today, and you won't even need to re-learn that much.
At the other end of the scale, I also installed and ran Xandros on a brand new HP Pavilion Slimline s7500e SE with a 2GHz AMD Turion 64 processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, and a 160GB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive. While even this was no screamer of a system, Xandros easily showed to its best advantage on this PC.
During all this, installation was a breeze. Whether I was replacing an operating system, or setting Xandros up to co-exist with an already-in-place Windows XP Home system, there really was nothing to installing the OS. I just popped in the CD, answered a few simple questions -- right or left handed mouse was the most technical of them -- and I was in business.
After all, Xandros is more than just a replacement for older versions of Windows. It's a very good, up-to-date desktop in its own right.
It is not, however, a desktop for Linux users who want each and every available open-source program already installed and ready to go. For that approach look to OpenSUSE 10.1. As part of its plan to make Linux simple for Windows users, Xandros includes only a few Linux applications, and usually hides them under a generic name.
For example, anyone could guess what Music Manager does, but underneath the name lies the KDE music manager amaroK. Sometimes, this approach can actually be more useful than simply avoiding confusing Windows users.
The best of these is XSS (Xandros Security Suite). This is an easy-to-use graphical interface for this Linux distribution's anti-virus protection, firewall, system file protection, and security patch system. Of course, a closer look reveals that underneath the pretty exterior are such programs as ClamAV and Linux's own built-in firewall tools.
At other times, though, Xandros seems to get downright silly with this. It's Firefox, I know it, you know it, we all know it. You don't need to call it "Internet." That will only serve to confuse users no matter what their operating system background.
What's neat about this, though, is that unlike Windows, not only does Xandros bundle all these security tools, it also makes them painless to use. I've known countless Windows users who have found trying to secure Windows to be too much trouble. With Xandros, that excuse doesn't hold water.
If you want new applications, Xandros also has a front-end to its program library. Yes, as you might have suspected, this actually disguises apt. Like Linspire with its Click'N'Run interface and library, Xandros points its users to its own program libraries. However, Xandros's selection is quite small compared to Linspire's program selection. An experienced Debian user can still install any program that strikes his or her fancy, of course.
As I sit here and look at Xandros, I must say that while it's not the most impressive Linux distribution I've ever seen, it really is, by a wide margin, the best Linux desktop to start Windows users on.
Xandros doesn't require Windows users to leap to Linux, they can simply step across. For that reason alone, I'm giving Xandros big thumbs up.
The Home Edition is $39.95, while the Premium Home Edition is $79.99. For Windows users, I recommend the Premium Edition, since it includes Crossover and Versora. You can also get these afterwards, but it will cost you more. If you just want to try it, there's also an Open Circulation version that's available at no charge via BitTorrent. However, this is not the newest version. It's Xandros 3. The latest version will come out in a free download version later this year.
-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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