Product Review: Xandros 2.0 Business Edition

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Easy to install, all the applications you could need--Xandros Desktop 2.0 is a true corporate desktop distribution.

Product: Xandros 2.0 Business Edition

Manufacturer: Xandros Inc.

Minimum System Requirements, as listed on Xandros.com:

  • Processor: Minimum -- Any Intel Pentium or Celeron processor or any AMD K6/II/III, Duron, Athlon, Athlon XP/MP processor. Recommended -- P-II or AMD K6/II, 450MHz

  • RAM: Minimum -- 64MB. Recommended -- 128MB.

  • Hard drive space: Minimum -- 1.5GB. Recommended -- 3GB

  • CD-ROM Floppy Drive: Only if CD-ROM is not bootable.

Price: $129 US, $495 US for a 5-pack.

Pros

  • Setup is as simple as it is for the Deluxe Ed.

  • Commercial support for StarOffice.

  • Joining a Windows Domain is as simple under Xandros as it is under Windows 2000.

  • VNC and Terminal Services Client installed by default.

  • Mozilla has been updated to version 1.6.

Cons

  • No GUI for VPN client.

When I was asked to take a look at Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition, I jumped at the chance. I have to admit that while I use a Debian GNU/Linux system at home for my firewall/mail server and have a Xandros Deluxe box for my desktop, I use Microsoft Windows 2000/XP at work. I am an MCSE who supports our clients' Windows networks. The thought of Linux as a desktop OS in the workplace? It gives me goosebumps! I was as excited as a child at Christmas.

Here are my first impressions. The setup is straight-forward and simple--even an MCSE can figure it out. I choose the complete setup, so more applications were installed than are installed with the default setup, but not that many more. The default setup is quite complete in its own right.

One of the key applications is Sun's StarOffice 7 Suite. This replaces the OpenOffice.org 1.1 suite that comes with the Deluxe Edition. StarOffice 7 is based on the OpenOffice.org suite, but you get the benefits of commercial support from Sun for StarOffice. One really nice feature found in both StarOffice and OpenOffice.org is the ability to publish documents as PDFs.

Mozilla is updated to version 1.6 for Business Edition 2.0. This upgrade is important to me, because we use a proprietary help-desk ticket system that uses NTLM authentication. Mozilla 1.6 is the first version to support NTLM authentication; no more "Internet Explorer 6 required", thank you very much.

One of the biggest and best features of Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition is its ability to authenticate against a Microsoft NT Primary Domain Controller or a Windows 2000 Active Directory Server. To the best of my knowledge, Xandros is the first Linux distribution to do so, as shipped. Joining the domain with Xandros Business Edition is as simple a process as it is on a Windows 2000/XP workstation. But, it still requires an account with the proper privileges.

Figure 1. Joining a Windows domain is but a few clicks away.

Once you are in the domain, you can connect automatically to domain resources, such as printers and fileshares. You also can execute domain controller user profiles and group policy logon scripts. After I joined my laptop to the domain and logged on as a domain user, my network home directory automatically was mounted as a folder in my Xandros File Manager.

Is Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition a viable option for the corporate desktop? I would have to say a resounding yes. I was given a pre-release copy of the Business Edition to review, and I was able to install it on a spare laptop. The moment I finished the setup, I shutdown my Window 2000 workstation and have not used it since. The base O/S is rock solid, and the list of standard applications is impressive. If you do need a Windows-based application, you still have CrossOver Office installed to run MS Office, Quicken, or a host of other Windows-based applications.

Other business applications are available as well. With Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition, you have access to SAP and Citrix clients and IBM terminal emulators, all of which are used regularly in large corporations.

One feature found in all versions of Xandros Desktop that deserves special mention is Xandros Networks. Xandros Networks is available to anyone who has a copy of Xandros Desktop, and it is available only from Xandros Desktop. It is the only place you can get the official Xandros updates and security patches, but you also can add your own package sources. Access to Xandros Network is unlimited to all Xandros Desktop users, and you even can buy extra features. For example, Xandros Desktop Standard Edition users can purchase the Code Weavers CrossOver Office application that is included in the Deluxe and Business Editions through the Xandros Shop, which is part of the Xandros Network.

Figure 2. Xandros' Answer to dselect

The nicest feature of Xandros Networks is the one-button update. With the click of a single button, you can apply all available updates to your current edition of Xandros Desktop.

Figure 3. Who says keeping a Linux system updated is difficult?

I have to pass on a co-workers comments about Business Edition 2.0. I let him play with my Xandros laptop one night. He came in the next morning and casually asked, "You know what's cool?", to which I answered, "What?". He exuberantly answered, "Xandros!!". And this is from one of our resident Linux developers who has been running a Linux desktop for a number of years.

Different levels of support are available for each edition of Xandros Desktop. The Standard Edition gets 30 days of installation technical support by e-mail, while the Deluxe Edition gets 60 days and the Business Edition gets 90 days. All versions receive unlimited access to the Xandros user support forum, accessible through the Xandros Web site.

The user interface is familiar, and the primary applications are intuitive. StarOffice 7 is as easy to use as Microsoft Word. And, if you don't need to access an Exchange server for e-mail, Ximian Evolution is as easy as Outlook. Plus, Xandros' minimum system requirements mean you can extend the useful life of some of the older hardware in the office. I'm writing this review in StarOffice on an old IBM 390E ThinkPad with a P-II 300MHz CPU with 128MB of RAM, and it's all but replaced my Windows 2000 workstation.

In conclusion, I would have to say the only thing missing is a GUI for the PPTP (VPN or virtual private network) client. A command-line client is available, but it might be a bit intimidating to a novice. Other than that, Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition truly is the alternative to Windows that corporate users have been looking for. At $129 US for a single license and $495 for a 5-pack, Microsoft can't compete on pricing. To reduce TCO (total cost of ownership), this really is the only way to go.

Dean Staff is a network administrator for IT Department, Inc. in Ottawa, Ontario Canada, where he lives with his wife and two children. He has been using Linux for about five years. His particular interest in Linux is as a desktop replacement for Windows and as an e-mail server.

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