Linux examined: Xandros Professional

Xandros, a commercial Linux distro, tries to be user-friendly, and for the most part, it succeeds.

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The Xandros Network

The Xandros Network is a very interesting component of the distribution. It combines a number of functions that most distributions keep separate: package management, updates and news from Xandros. The package management component, where you install new applications, looks pretty much like that for any other distribution. However, the update section is another place where Xandros has gone for a Windows look and feel, with highly readable descriptions of the updates, divided up into security updates, normal updates, driver updates and service packs (yes, Xandros has even borrowed the Service Pack nomenclature from Microsoft).

One thing that Xandros offers that most distributions don't is a store, integrated into the Network, that lets you purchase, download and install commercial Linux software.

Unfortunately, there really aren't that many packages available -- the store mainly offers the pro version of CrossOver and the StarOffice productivity suite, along with Xandros' antivirus software. For an additional $40, you can purchase a Xandros Network Pro membership, which lets you download a number of interesting games and tools.

The current Network may become irrelevant, however, due to the Linspire purchase. One of the major reasons that Xandros gave for acquiring Linspire was to integrate Linspire's Click and Run (CNR) technology into Xandros. CNR offers a much wider variety of commercial software as well as the usual open-source fare, and is available on multiple distributions, including Fedora and Ubuntu. As of this writing, CNR is still not available for Xandros, despite an announced July 2008 date, but I would expect it to become available soon.

No free lunch

Xandros is an unabashedly commercial distribution. Unlike Linspire, which has a parallel Freespire project, Xandros has no free version. The trial version is just that -- it starts shutting down after a half-hour once you've reached the end of the 30-day trial.

Xandros

The Xandros Network lets you purchase commercial Linux software.

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If you decide to buy, you currently have only one option: You can purchase the Professional version for $99, which includes the distribution, the Xandros Network package and 90 days of support. (If you're a nonprofit, incidentally, the company allows unlimited installations for nonprofit use.)

And if you're looking for a single desktop edition? At the moment, you're out of luck; Xandros has discontinued its $40 Desktop Home Edition. However, according to a company rep, Xandros will release Freespire 5 in late October and a new Business Desktop version in November.

Xandros will no doubt offend Linux purists, both by the tight integration of commercial software into its business model and by the lack of features such as Gnome. On the other hand, for a Linux newbie who wants a Windows-like experience, it may make a reasonable choice.

James Turner is a freelance journalist specializing in technology.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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